Leading Article: A row that may test the Mona Lisa's smile

Share
Related Topics
When a painting reaches a certain point of fame, the work itself can scarcely hope to live up to expectations. So it is with Leonardo's Mona Lisa. This must be the most famous picture in the world. No other man- or woman-made image can have been reproduced as frequently, in just about every conceivable form and variation.

Yet when they locate it in the Louvre, most people's reaction is likely to be: 'Oh, is that really all it is?' Enjoying Leonardo's handiwork is not made easier by dense crowds of the curious, or by the bullet-proof glass that preserves the good lady from assault by deranged publicity-seekers. Cynics may be comforted by the thought that at least she, and her sister in notoriety, the 'Venus de Milo', siphon off touristic philistines who would otherwise be clogging up different parts of the museum.

In short, the Mona Lisa is famous for being famous. She has become a kind of freak show. So hearts will sink at the prospect of a battle of experts over whether or not this icon of Western art should be cleaned. With the controversy over the restoration - or vandalisation - of Michelangelo's fresco, The Last Judgement, in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel still resonating, the prospect of yet another debate is daunting.

The question of whether restoration work should be carried out on paintings 400 or 500 years old arouses intense passions. Amid the steam thus generated, it is hard for uninvolved lay persons to weigh the arguments. The core question is: are the gains from removing darkened varnish and thus revealing the tones - generally much brighter - underneath, outweighed by the damage that may be done in the process?

With each picture the technical pros and cons will inevitably be different. With Leonardo, one of the strongest arguments against cleaning is said to be the fragile, porous nature of the paint. It would be a brave conservation department that risked damaging the world's most famous image. If one of the Louvre's justifications is really that the Mona Lisa needs to be brighter in order to show up in a new, darker room, doubts would seem to be justified. Yet the case for sensitively removing her veils of darkened varnish may be powerful. Stand by for its advocates to have their lengthy say too.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A press image from the company  

If men are so obsessed by their genitals, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities of sex?

Chloë Hamilton
Workers clean the area in front of the new Turkish Presidential Palace prior to an official reception for Republic day in Ankara  

Up Ankara, for a tour of great crapital cities

Dom Joly
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory