Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is overrated. Why? For starters, the director of the Louvre said that 80% of the museum’s visitors are there just to see the Mona Lisa. 80%! We’re talking about one of the finest museums in the world, overflowing with some of the world’s greatest artworks, and people come to only see one thing. Overrated. The story of how that happened involves a passionate art critic and a crime.
This is an hour-long documentary on the Louvre’s recent restoration of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne.
The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne is one of the most beautiful paintings in the world. It is also one of the most mysterious. Disfigured and even jeopardised by “repairs” and by the successive layers of varnish applied to it over the centuries, it was also in very bad condition. To save the painting, it had to be restored.
The spectacular operation, the likes of which occurs only once a century, took over three years to complete. The complex and outstanding restoration process provided a unique opportunity to get as close as possible to the painting, to how it was originally painted, and to better understand the complex relationship Leonardo da Vinci had with one of his finest masterpieces.
Restorations are fascinating. I only had time today for the first five minutes, but it hooked me enough that I’m going to go back to it tonight. (via @BoleTzar)
When he was around 32 years old, Leonardo da Vinci applied to the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, for a job. The duke was in need of military expertise and Leonardo’s 10-point CV emphasized his military engineering skills:
3. Also, if one cannot, when besieging a terrain, proceed by bombardment either because of the height of the glacis or the strength of its situation and location, I have methods for destroying every fortress or other stranglehold unless it has been founded upon a rock or so forth.
4. I have also types of cannon, most convenient and easily portable, with which to hurl small stones almost like a hail-storm; and the smoke from the cannon will instil a great fear in the enemy on account of the grave damage and confusion.
And I love what is almost an aside at the end of the list:
Also I can execute sculpture in marble, bronze and clay. Likewise in painting, I can do everything possible as well as any other, whosoever he may be.
Oh yeah, P.S., by the way, not that it matters, I am also the greatest living artist in the world, no big deal. Yr pal, Leo. (via farnam street and the letters of note book)
Per Betteridge’s law of headlines, the answer to this is “no”, but it’s still an interesting yarn.
Among the many enduring mysteries of this period is the fate of the world’s most famous painting. It seems that Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was among the paintings found in the Altaussee salt mine in the Austrian alps, which was converted by the Nazis into their secret stolen-art warehouse.
The painting only “seems” to have been found there because contradictory information has come down through history, and the Mona Lisa is not mentioned in any wartime document, Nazi or allied, as having been in the mine. Whether it may have been at Altaussee was a question only raised when scholars examined the postwar Special Operations Executive report on the activities of Austrian double agents working for the allies to secure the mine. This report states that the team “saved such priceless objects as the Louvre’s Mona Lisa”. A second document, from an Austrian museum near Altaussee dated 12 December 1945, states that “the Mona Lisa from Paris” was among “80 wagons of art and cultural objects from across Europe” taken into the mine.
The Mona Lisa was actually stolen in 1911, in one of the cleverest art heists ever pulled.
Restorers at the Prado Museum in Madrid, working on what they thought was a 16th or 17th century replica of the Mona Lisa, have discovered that the painting was actually done by a student of Leonardo’s at the same time as the original.
Museum experts are in the process of stripping away a cover of black over-paint which, when fully removed, will reveal the youthfulness of the subject they say. The final area of over-paint will come off in the next few days.
The original “Mona Lisa” hangs in the Louvre but the sitter looks older than her years as the varnish is cracked. The painting is so fragile that restoration or cleaning is deemed too risky. The Prado version, however, will show the sitter as she was: a young woman in her early 20s.
While travelling, Leonardo kept a small notebook at the ready for notes and sketching. In one of these notebooks, he listed a number of things he wished to accomplish in one week or month in the late 1490s.
What a jumble! Cannons, wall construction, studying the sun, ice skating in Flanders, optics, and that oh-so-casual, “Draw Milan.” It’s like his mind could wander off in any direction at any time. How did he concentrate? How did he focus?
Maybe he went in and out, plunging into a task that concentrated him fully, and then, once done, he’d spring back to the rough and tumble of Anything Goes. Great minds can go as they please.
Another giant, Michel Montaigne, the inventor of the essay, wrote that no single idea could hold him. “I cannot keep my subject still,” he wrote. “It goes along, befuddled and staggering, with a natural drunkenness.”
I like being drunk like that.
(via sly oyster)
Art scholars have authenticated a painting by Leonardo da Vinci that has been lost for centuries.
Simon brought the panel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art about two years ago to have it examined by several curators and conservators. “It was brought in for inspection in the conservation studio,” said a person close to the Metropolitan who asked not to be identified. “The painting was forgotten for years. When it turned up at auction, Simon thought it was worth taking a gamble. It had been heavily overpainted, which makes it look like a copy. It was a wreck, dark and gloomy. It had been cleaned many times in the past by people who didn’t know better. Once a restorer put artificial resin on it, which had turned gray and had to be removed painstakingly. When they took off the overpaint, what was revealed was the original paint. You saw incredibly delicate painting. All agree it was painted by Leonardo.”
From the Codex Atlanticus, this is a letter that Leonardo da Vinci wrote in 1482 to the Duke of Milan advertising his services as a “skilled contriver of instruments of war”. From the translation:
6. I have means by secret and tortuous mines and ways, made without noise, to reach a designated spot, even if it were needed to pass under a trench or a river.
So, Leonardo was pretty much Q from the Bond films or Lucius Fox from Batman. But the artist was in there as well…at the bottom of his list, stuck in almost as an afterthought:
11. I can carry out sculpture in marble, bronze, or clay, and also I can do in painting whatever may be done, as well as any other, be he who he may.
Update: If Leonardo was a programmer, his letter might have read something like this:
4. Again, I have kinds of functions; most convenient and easy to ftp; and with these I can spawn lots of data almost resembling a torrent; and with the download of these cause great terror to the competitor, to his great detriment and confusion.
This is an odd little excerpt from Vanity Fair of a book about the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa and other art in Paris.
The shocking theft of the Mona Lisa, in August 1911, appeared to have been solved 28 months later, when the painting was recovered. In an excerpt from their new book, the authors suggest that the audacious heist concealed a perfect — and far more lucrative — crime.
Expecting new revelations, I read on but it was the same story told in previous books. Regardless, it’s a great story and worth the read but nothing new if you’ve heard it before.
Update: Someone’s doing a documentary. (thx, rakesh)
Leonardo da Vinci was a polymath and all that but this would have blown his tiny mind: the Mona Lisa “painted” using just 50 semi-transparent polygons. (via waxy)
Why does the woman depicted in the Mona Lisa appear to be both smiling and not smiling at the same time? The smile part of the Mona Lisa’s face was painted by Leonardo in low spatial frequencies. This means that when you look right at her mouth, there’s no smile. But if you look at her eyes or elsewhere in the portrait, your peripheral vision picks up the smile. (via collision detection)
Two Da Vincis long held in private collections to go on public display for the first time.