Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" (1506) is probably the world's best-known painting.
American joumalist Art Buchwald was curious to see how people
approach such a famous work of art.
Whenever I have a fight with my wife or get depressed about the price of apartments in
Paris, I hie myself off to the Louvre to look at the "Mona Lisa". 1 have been there many
times lately and have had the opportunity to get more familiar not only with the famous
painting, but also with the people who come from all over the world to look at it.
"La Joconde", as it is known to the French, hangs in the Grande Galerie on the first floor
of the museum. lt is covered with a pane of glass, presumably to keep tourists from
cutting their initials into it. A guard stands by it all day long to see that people don't set
oft the burglar alarm that is attached to the back of the canvas.
The painting is no longer considered a work of art, but more an idol to be viewed by
tourists with awe and reverence.
People do not approach it as if it were a painting. Instead they go forward in what has
become known as the "Mona Lisa Crouch". lt could best be described as semi-crouch.
The tourist bends forward and makes a slow advance on the canvas. Then, keeping his
eyes on the picture, he makes a semi-circle to see if the eyes are following him, as most
guidebooks claim. He finally returns to the painting, straightens up, and keeps staring at
it, waiting for something to happen.
There is a small minority of tourists (the ones who don't want to go where the tourists
go) who pretend they are not interested in the "Mona Lisa". These tourists pretend they
have come to study the Titian on the left and the Correggio on the right while sneaking
glances of the "Mona Lisa" on the sly.
Many tourists have their pictures taken next to the "Mona Lisa" and one of the more
common comments heard in front of the painting is, "What opening shall I give it?"
If two or more tourists view it, the remarks are quite interesting.
The other day I recorded some of them.
A guide came up with an American man and his wife.
The guide: "You really must get the extraordinary expression. You see ... she doesn't smile much, does she?"
American man: "Unnnhhh."
Guide: "Notice how her eyes follow you ... don't they?"
American man: "Unnnhhh. Very good art."
They moved to the side and the guide said, "Here again she is looking at you. That is
why she is so human ... you get a funny feeling when you look, at her ... she seems to understand
what we are saying. I feel uncomfortable after talking in front of her. I'm sure she understands
what we are thinking."
American woman: "Who is she?"
Guide: "She is supposed to be somebody's wife ... but she is really a portrait of Woman ... just women in
general, as Leonardo thought of them."
American woman: I' love to know who she really was."
A German couple came up. It's the mouth, nein?'
"Ja," replied the other. It's the mouth."
An English couple walked past. The woman stopped and the man said, "Oh, come on. We've already seen it."
Three Americans approached. Is this it?"
I don't think so." (Looks at metal tag under painting.) "Yes, this is it."
It's the original, isn't it?"
1 think so. Let's ask, the guard."
"Est-que ca L'original de Mona Lisa n'est-ce-pas?"
"Oui," the guard replied. "C'est l'original."
The American returned to the other two: "Yup, this is it."
1 expect it's the most expensive picture in the world."
"Yeh, but they wouldn't sell it."
"Come on, let's go see the Venus de Milo." Two Italian men came up,
"They say it's a man. "
"They lie. Look at the bosom."
Several people came up by themselves and said nothing.
Then an American with a camera and his wife stopped.
"Well, here it is," said the wife. 'What do you think?"
"The light's no good for color film. What's next?"
I left on this note. But 1 couldn't help thinking as I walked out into the Tuileries that the guide
who told the American couple that the "Mona Lisa" knows what the people are saying is wrong. lf she did,
she certainly wouldn't be smiling anymore.
crouch - position in which one's legs are bent so that one is close to the ground and leaning slightly forward
to hie oneself to sth. - to go quickly to sth.
La Jaconde - 'the cheerful one' (French name for the 'Mona Lisa')
on the sly (infaml.) - secretly
Tuileries - gardens near the Louvre
1. Compare your images of visitors to art galleries and museums with Art Buchwald's desription
2. According to Art Buchwald's view, why do people crouch when they approach the 'Mona Lisa'?
3. Why in Art Buchwald's view, wouldn't the Mona Lisa be smiling anymore if she knew what people were saying while looking
4. Find examples in the text which show how Art Buchwald plays with national stereotypes.
Source: Eleven Ausgabe A, pp.49/50, Cornelsen Verlag 1994