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?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
SEEN graffiti Wonder Woman  

Warner Bros’ bold stance on Wonder Woman opens the door for Hollywood evolution

Matthew James
 

Errors & Omissions: moderate, iconic royals are a shoe-in for a pedantic kicking

Guy Keleny
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us