Beth Hurst. Image: France-003324.

Arts Column: Why does Mona Lisa make us smile?

In the Louvre, Paris, the Gallery map highlights exactly where notable works are situated by wing, floor, and room number. Even more than that, certain works are signposted with paper on the walls featuring a picture of the painting or sculpture, and a large black arrow. Almost as if the Gallery staff had got so sick of trying to direct foreign tourists to the Mona Lisa, that a trail of arrows seemed preferable.

After 8 hours of travelling by train, plane, coach and metro – a few friends and I decided to follow the idiot-proof Louvre guide for dummies and weary travellers like ourselves. Nearly missing the Mona Lisa because the Italian wing has too many ugly babies and hilarious montages to laugh at, we eventually found her. People gathered around the roped-off painting – taking pictures and even the odd selfie.
Within minutes another dozen or so images would be on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram…#Louvre #Monalisa #Art

The Parisian who told me you need six months to see the Louvre was right.

For such a famous painting, I realised how little I actually knew about it, other than some probably false information I picked up from the Da Vinci Code. Yet it’s possible, even if you’ve never studied art, to feel something when you look at her mystifying smile.

A small, unidentifiable stirring, trying to understand something so complex. Essays, books, and films have been made about it and there you are, standing in front of it, not knowing what to think.
The Parisian who told me you need six months to see the Louvre was right. Maybe even longer to absolutely study every miniscule detail of the thousands of pieces of art.

My experience was summed up, standing in front of the Venus de Milo, when my friend questioned “why this armless statue and not another? It’s not even that good.”



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