The underrated Mona Lisa

Jason Kottke:

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.

I disagree. The reasons why people go to see this painting may be entirely frivolous; preceded by a fame that has little to do with the work itself. Yet it’s ludicrous to think the Mona Lisa is overrated (and snobbishly dismiss it) because of the kind of appropriation art tourism has made of it.

Before its modern fame, the work captivated the attention and admiration of other Renaissance artists—including Raphael—and set the tone for what was possible to achieve with portraiture. If anything, the conditions in which the work is forced to be displayed and its status as a cultural icon make it impossible to aesthetically appreciate it on its own terms. For the way it is violently consumed it is, perhaps, underrated.

The reasons why people flood the Louvre hall that contains the painting may be completely spurious but it doesn’t make the work any less remarkable. Its status as a cultural icon is inconsequential to the quality of the work.