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Saturday, January 29, 2022

Mona Lisa’s smirk

Germaine Greer thinks Leonardo Da Vinci’s work lacks artistic merit. Does it matter if she’s right?

By: Editorial |
May 29, 2019 12:22:48 am
mona lisa, Germaine Greer, Germaine Greer mona lisa criticism, Germaine Greer mona lisa, Leonardo Da Vinci, last supper, Leonardo Da Vinci last supper The Mona Lisa, according to Germaine Greer, is a “half dead woman” and Da Vinci’s depiction of Jesus and the apostle’s breaking bread before the crucifixion is “sloppy”.

In certain circles — jaded college students, academics who don’t get invited to TV studios, theatre actors who aspire to but have not yet achieved movie-star celebrity — there is no insult more ironically cutting than calling someone “mainstream”. Germaine Greer’s criticism of Leonardo Da Vinci’s work in general, and the Mona Lisa and Last Supper, in particular, is more sophisticated than that. But only just. The moot question, however, is: Is Greer right?

The Mona Lisa, according to her, is a “half dead woman” and Da Vinci’s depiction of Jesus and the apostle’s breaking bread before the crucifixion is “sloppy”. Greer recalled, speaking at the Hay Festival in Wales, feeling particularly annoyed at the gawking throng around the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, rather than the far superior portrait of Baldassare Castiglione by Raphael. Da Vinci’s personality — “he was an entertainer. People loved his company, he was funny, he was spontaneous, he sang and accompanied himself on musical instruments” — not only made him the household name he is, it also “distracted” him from his art.

Greer’s disappointment is two-fold: First, that people, philistines that they are, do not seem to see through the vacuity of Mona Lisa’s smile. Second, Da Vinci himself is over-rated. Both arguments are made of contemporary figures as well (Shah Rukh Khan can’t act, makes the wrong artistic choices). What’s different about Greer is that she herself is something of a mainstream academic and writer, more people know her name than have read her books. She is no longer the outsider who, with the Female Eunuch, articulated a new and radical feminism. Perhaps people like Da Vinci’s work precisely because of its simplicity, in parts, and his sloppiness with religious themes. Perhaps the myth of the man has indeed overtaken the work. And maybe those that manically click selfies at the Louvre are not all accomplished art critics. So what?

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