I recently watched Tim’s Vermeer, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I’ll get back to that in a bit. I was also recently interested in why the Mona Lisa is so popular and iconic, so I thought I write about each of these things a bit.
Why is the Mona Lisa so famous? You can read about it being famous and well regarded as soon as it was painted, but it certainly had nothing like it’s iconic status until the beginning of this century. You’ve heard of the Mona Lisa and see her iconic half-smile everywhere. How about the Portland Vase? If you believe Google Books N-Gram viewer is a something of a model of popularity, or at least discussion and public awareness, the Mona Lisa, was not nearly as popular at the Portland Vase just a few generations back. Just to be careful, I also tried other aliases for the painting such as La Gioconda, but to no avail.
Da Vinci’s painting got a little fame when, in 1869, Walter Pater wrote a popular essay on Da Vinci and praised the painting. At that time, reproductions began to get some popularity in England. However, it really got famous in 1911 when the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre by an Italian nationalist and went missing for two years, during which there was a lot of publicity. So why is the Mona Lisa famous? As far as I can tell, it is disproportionately famous because it’s theft from the Louver received a lot of publicity at the time. Because it got popular and renowned as valuable, it has then served to represent fine art in popular media ever since, only magnifying its fame. If you are interested in you can read a longer piece on it’s fame HERE. Suffice it say that although I enjoy it as a painting, it certainly seems overrated, even after I went to go see it in the Louvre.
I encourage you to discover the works of Katsushika Hokusai if you are unfamiliar with anything other than Under the Wave Off Kanagawa. It was interesting to see an interest growing in the late 19th century with the Orientalists, and then a bit peak in the 60’s counter-culture.
As much as I like Da Vinci, I am probably more a fan of the painting of Vermeer. That made the idea of a computer nerd trying to figure out what technological innovations Vermeer might have used to help him paint quite interesting to me. Tim’s Vermeer is definitely a movie by and about geeks for geeks, but I enjoyed it tremendously:
There seem to be some art critic type people who seem to think that this misses the point of Vermeer, but that is the sort of attitude of someone who thinks that understanding the refraction of light ruins the beauty of a rainbow. When you understand more about a process you can understand and appreciate its beauty all the more. When you understand a little bit more about the handwork and insight that goes into the process, I think you gain a greater appreciation for his genius.
If you’re interested, The Girl in the Pearl Earring barely makes a blip in the N-Grams compared to the others.