Posts Tagged ‘Rennaisance’

Google brings Masterpieces online – the google art project

March 12, 2011

google art project

The insatiable, and mostly inspiring, efforts of never-evil Google to contain all the world on a 14-inch screen took another giant leap forward with the unveiling of the Google Art Project. Working with 17 of the world’s leading galleries and museums – from MoMA in New York to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, from the Hermitage in St Petersburg to London’s National Gallery and Tate – the project takes the corporation’s street-view technology behind closed doors. It allows you not only to wander, at the touch of a mouse, the corridors and halls that contain many of the greatest masterpieces ever made, but also to view some of those paintings in finer detail than if you were standing in front of them.

The sharp focus is made possible by 14bn pixel photography that brings the most delicate brush strokes into microscopic relief. So far, this headline-grabbing technology is restricted to one painting per gallery – Holbein’s The Ambassadors is the National’s mesmerising example, Van Gogh’s Starry Night is MoMA’s – but it seems inevitable that it will eventually illuminate far more of the collections.

The almost magical potential resource raises many questions, not the least of which is whether viewing online will ever be a substitute for the real thing. (Along with the not-insignificant supplementaries: if it is, what effect will this have on gallery attendance and on our idea of art?)

After spending a few hours on the site (yet another new way of digressing on a screen), the answer to the first part feels like a qualified no. Looking at a painting on screen, however vivid the detail, is wholly different in kind from standing in front of it. Though there is genuine wonder in the backlit clarity of the images – in Bellini’s St Francis in the Desert from the Frick Collection in New York, for example, you can make out the artist’s fingerprints in the surface of the paint – as with any reproduction, what is lost is a sense of the painting as a physical object, as a little framed force field.

Mostly absent too, therefore, is that uncanny sense of communion that great paintings sometimes provide, the feeling that you are in the human presence of something that can talk to you directly across time and space; one element of that latter feeling undoubtedly derives from the sense of effort that brought you in front of the painting in the first place (the closest many of us get to pilgrimage).

You look at the on-screen pictures, as a result, with a somewhat more academic than emotional eye. It’s not a reductive experience (how could this extraordinary level of free access to some of the world’s most enduring images ever be that?), but neither is it the same thing, quite.

Despite this reservation, Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, was probably right when he claimed the Google project as “the first global art collection” and one which gives us the clearest sense yet of “the digital future for museums”.

There was also, from Serota, inevitable talk of the website bringing “communities of like-minded visitors together to connect in ways that aren’t always possible in the gallery”, which I suppose means that visitors to the site will be able to share responses to particular paintings in a way they might feel reluctant to do while standing next to a stranger in front of a Botticelli.

The gallery directors involved in the project are of course confident that the online versions of their collections will extend curiosity rather than satisfying it; that the art project will act as an advertisement for those who can get to the galleries.

One can only assume that the museums not involved – the Louvre in Paris and the Prado in Madrid, for example – are less sure of that equation. As always, with the digitisation of culture, the answer will not be long in coming.

Source: The Guardian

The Google Art Project

The Mona Lisa – what’s the big deal?

December 27, 2009

 Mona Lisa - Leonardo Da Vinci

A desultory conversation with my cousin, led us to the subject of art. He said, “What’s the big deal in the Mona Lisa? Why would anyone pay tons of money for it?” Well, I did manage to give him a prosaic answer, which didn’t convince me either.

I must admit that the actual painting, at first look, is quite unimpressive; not because of the quality of the work but because it does not stand up to its perceived image of magnificence. The “Oh my God!” effect is missing. At first glance, it looks like all the other paintings in the Louvre, all wonderfully painted by great masters.

So what’s the reason behind Mona Lisa’s fame? What makes it so special compared to the other famous works? Why were 1.6 million people thronging to see it when it was displayed in New York? Why was every viewer only provided 10 seconds to view it in Tokyo?

Here’s my endeavor to explain it in simple terms… the reasons:

The technique

Leonardo Da Vinci used a number of unique and innovative techniques to paint this picture. The painting redefined the rules of contemporary art at the time and the techniques used by him became an integral part of the art school curriculum. Da Vinci used techniques which were unknown at the time (16th century). He invented the “sfumato” technique which translated means ‘without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke’. It was the norm at the time for artists to proceed from an outline, whereas Da Vinci did not have an outline but used different tones / shades of paint to create an illusion of  light and shadow. Starting with dark undertones he built the illusion of three-dimensional features through layers and layers of thin semi-transparent glazes. He used darker shades to highlight features and borders of the subject. The use of this technique caught the interest of the art circle in Paris and was hailed as an innovation in painting.

There were many other unique characteristics in the Mona Lisa that intrigued the art community and the viewers like the landscapes (mountains and rivers) in the background. A potrait was usually drawn with the background being the open sky, a montone background or a room. The background was also queer due to the dimensions of the mountains.

However, the above uniqueness of the painting can only be recognized by people in the know or by people who have studied the painting; this still doesn’t explain why everybody in the world wants to see it.

The smile

One of the commonly cited reasons for her fame is the ‘Mona Lisa’s Smile’. Da Vinci exploited human optimcal illusion to create a unique smile through perspective and by using shadow work. Da Vinci painted Mona Lisa in such a way that the eyes are the center of the viewer’s attention and the mouth is the periphery. His sfumato technique ensured that both the eyes and the mouth were prominent features. When the viewer looks at the eyes, the mouth falls under the viewer’s peripheral vision and therefore the features of the mouth are not clear, this along with a little shading at the cheek bones make the mouth look like a smile. But once the viewer focuses on the mouth (smile), the smile slowly disappers, as it was not meant to be a smile. That’s the magic of Leonardo’s skill and that’s what made the Mona Lisa unique compared to other grand paintings. There are various interpretations of the smile, some say it is a happy smile, some find it deceptive while others perceive it as a sad smile. The mysterious smile has also given rise to various speculations on who the subject was. The facial expression gives the painting an enigmatic look, leaving the viewer to wonder what the model was thinking, who she actually was and why does she seems happy to some and appear sad to others.

The glamour

Da Vinci’s was said to be an interesting character himself, being an inventor, artist and scientist. In his hey days and under the patronage of Francois I he managed to create an aura of a celebrity around himself. His fame rubbed off on the Mona Lisa which was also favoured by Francois I his patron. One must know that, there are only 20 finished canvas paintings done by Da Vinci during his lifetime, increasing Mona Lisa’s rarity.

The fact that it was stolen in the early years of the 20th century added to its fame. Artists like Ducham, Dali and Warhol publicized the painting further through their different reproductions. The painting has been used as an object for mass reproduction, merchandising, lampooning and speculation, and was reproduced in 300 paintings and 2,000 advertisements.

The Provenance

Da Vinci started painting the Mona Lisa in 1503 and he worked on it for four years. The subject of the paintings is popularly believed to be the wife of a wealthy Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo. The painting was commissioned for their new home and to celebrate the birth of their second son, Andrea. The subject is Lisa del Gioncondo. In those days, in Italy, Mona meant Madonna, this was how all women were addressed (like Mrs.) and therefore the name Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa is also called La Jaconde. There are other controversial versions as to who the subject of the painting is.

The Mona Lisa was always displayed in a place of importance. It was publicly displayed in the Fontainebleau, Francois I favourite château in 1519. In 1800, the Mona Lisa was hung in Napolean’s bedroom and in 4 years it was moved to the Louvre, which is still its home.

Other controversies

There are rumours of hidden secrets and symbols within the painting.

Academicians have found evidence of various (hidden) layers of paintings within the Mona Lisa. Scholars are said to have, identified at least four different paintings as the Mona Lisa and several people as its subject.

Da Vinci is supposed to have painted Mona Lisa in his own likeness, as a female Da Vinci


The Mona Lisa is undoubtedly the most talked about painting. The above history of the painting explains most of it, but what keeps the painting in the lime light is the fact that Da Vinci’s life itself was full of controversies and mysteries which are still being revealed. The Mona Lisa too is being constantly studied by artists and academicians to discover the apparent mystery that shrouds the painting. Its reputation as a carrier of symbols, secrets and other unknown mysteries will keep the infamy of the Mona Lisa going for a long time.

Well I hope the above sheds some light on “what the big deal is about the Mona Lisa”

Sideline issues – Value of the painting

Before the 1962–3 tour, the painting was assessed, for insurance purposes, as valued at $100 million. As an expensive painting, it has only recently been surpassed, in terms of actual dollar price, by three other paintings: the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt, which was sold for $135 million, the Woman III by Willem de Kooning sold for $138 million in November 2006, and No. 5, 1948 by Jackson Pollock sold for a record $140 million on in November 2006. Although these figures are greater than the 1962 figure which the Mona Lisa was valued at, the comparison does not account for the change in prices due to inflation – $100 million in 1962 is approximately $700 million in 2009 when adjusted for inflation using the US Consumer Price Index.

Further reading on the Mona Lisa (reference sources for the article)

Mona Lisa impressions by famous artists

Mona Lisa by Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol