Why do we do it? Is it because of the clever marketing? The fact that the portrait is the work of Leonardo da Vinci, one of the greatest artists of all time? The enigmatic smile, perhaps? Or because if you are visiting the Louvre in Paris, the visit would be incomplete without going to see the Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo (to give the portrait its full title)?
I read somewhere that it has been estimated that most visitors lining up to see the Mona Lisa spend as little as 15 seconds in front of the painting. Fifteen seconds! I don’t know if there is any truth to that claim, but certainly virtually no-one has time to linger more than a few minutes before her. The crush of bodies, the raised cameras, the ridiculous selfie poses struck by gawking teenagers and adults who should know better, and the constant attention and wariness of security guards, all combine to make any visit to the Mona Lisa one of the least enjoyable experiences of any trip to the Louvre.
Besides, the painting is hardly on the grand size. At just 77 cm by 53 cm (30 inches by 21 inches), Leonardo da Vinci’s masterwork is dwarfed by just about every other work of art inside the Louvre. This also makes the possibility of examining the painting closely a pretty much hopeless task—not that you can get that close to it anyway.
When I visited at the beginning of winter in December 2010, the lines to room 6, on the first floor of the Denon wing were thankfully short and the crowds almost thin. I hate to think what the queues must be like during July and August, the peak European tourist season.
If you really must go to see the Mona Lisa during your Parisian holiday, don’t be surprised if you come away from the experience disappointed by the whole circus surrounding this one painting. Instead, make up for any disappointment you feel by immersing yourself in the hundreds (in fact, thousands) of other fabulous art works to be seen and enjoyed, up close and at leisure in the same room and throughout the museum.
Once you have had your glimpse of Señora Gherardini, turn around and stand in awe, as I did, before a work of such monumental proportions that it is impossible not to be impressed by the size and scope of the work. This is Paolo Veronese’s, ‘The Wedding Feast at Cana’.
Click this link for full screen view of Wedding Feast at Cana... and make sure you use your mouse to zoom in for close up look at this masterpiece.
Now here is a painting you can get lost in. Here is a work that demands the viewer stop, contemplate, examine, and marvel at Veronese’s vision. This is the work of a true master. Every wedding guest and attendant seems to have their own story to tell, with each either caught mid-sentence or in the act of performing some task (pouring wine, playing instruments, or serving guests). Even the gawkers hanging on to the columns of nearby building or crowding the balconies are filled with life and movement.
For my money, any number of other paintings at the Louvre are far more worthy of closer attention than Leonardo's Mona Lisa, and the placement of Veronese's monumental work on the wall directly opposite her, feels like a deliberate attempt by that institution's curators to show the thousands of daily visitors that there are other masterpieces in the building that are arguably more deserving of their attention.