Monday, January 30, 2012

Should the Mona Lisa’s Smile Be Saved?

If you saw someone dying before your eyes, wouldn’t you do everything possible to save them? Is there ever a case when saving someone (or something) is the wrong choice? In a recent article on Art Watch UK titled “What Price a Smile? The Louvre Leonardo Mouths that are Now at Risk,” Michael Daley raises the issues surrounding what he calls “a wid[ening] international art conservation faultline” between conservative conservators who refuse to risk doing harm to great works of the past through cleanings and restorations and more aggressive conservators who feel that the benefits of modern conservation outweigh the (to them, minimal) risks. What raises Daley’s hackles the most is the shift from conservative conservation to almost radical change at the Louvre, the granddaddy of all art museums and past champion of the “do no harm” school. Not only has the philosophy changed at the Louvre, but, as Daley notes, some paintings by Leonardo da Vinci have already been changed with no debate on the issue. The Mona Lisa’s smile (cracking and faded, but still there, above) hasn’t undergone cosmetic surgery yet, but it seems the next step. Knowing the risks, should the Mona Lisa’s smile be saved? Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Should the Mona Lisa’s Smile Be Saved?"

[Image: Leonardo da Vinci. Mona Lisa (detail), 1503-1519.]

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why the Renaissance Model of Portraiture Endures

What is that “Presidential” look? Consciously or subconsciously, American voters ask themselves that question every four years on the way to the ballot box. Is it the Mount Rushmore-ready chin, the never-retreating hairline, or the ideally symmetrical smile to which we surrender our hearts? Portraits of power go back to the beginning of recorded history, but, as The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini, which runs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through March 18, 2012, shows, it was the artists of the Renaissance who resurrected Greek and Roman models and modernized them for their day and our own. Since the Renaissance, portraiture continues to be more about conveying character than fidelity of representation. The Renaissance portrait endures today because portraits continue to be more about identities than about appearances. The nose (and the eyes, chin, etc.) knows who we are and reveals it to all the world. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Why the Renaissance Model of Portraiture Endures."

[Image: Domenico Ghirlandaio (Domenica Bigordi; Florence, 1448/49-1494, Florence). Portrait of an Old Man and a Boy (detail), ca. 1490. Tempera on wood, 24 ¾ in. x 18 ¼ in. Département des Peintures, Musée du Louvre, Paris.]

[Many thanks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for providing me with the image above and other press materials related to The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini, which runs through March 18, 2012. Many thanks also to Yale University Press for providing me with a review copy of the exhibition catalog, which was edited by Keith Christiansen and Stefan Weppelmann.]