Picasso And The Mona Lisa
Photo credit: Wikimedia, Leonardo da Vinci
As artsy as the French are, they cannot (and do not) claim title to some of the most famous art that graces their capital. Paris’s Picasso museum may boast the largest collection of the artist’s work in the world, and more visitors may trek to the Louvre expressly to see the painting of Mona Lisa than any other artwork housed there, but neither Pablo nor Lisa is French.Pablo Picasso was, of course, a Spaniard. Born in 1881, he settled in Paris in 1904. Although Picasso lived from then until his death in 1973 primarily in France, he never had French citizenship. But it wasn’t for want of trying. In 1940, with Germany set to invade France and Franco in power in Spain, Picasso’s situation as a resident alien had to have been uncomfortable. A self-affirmed atheist and devotee to the French communists, he would have had trouble fitting in to the artistic and cultural scene that Franco’s fascist government had established in his homeland. But in 1940, when Picasso requested French citizenship, he was turned down on the grounds of being an anarchist with communist tendencies.Like Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci died on French soil as a foreign resident. But unlike Picasso, he was already an old man when he was invited to France by King Francois I in 1517. The subject of his most famous portrait, Mona Lisa (or “My Lady Lisa”), was every bit as Italian as the painter she sat for back in Florence in 1503. But that is where our knowledge of the model as a person ends.Three main theories about her identity circulate, the oldest dating from 1550. It suggests that Lady Lisa is Lisa del Giocondo. This theory is widely accepted in France, where the painting is known as La Joconde. A later theory, proposed by Sigmund Freud and others in the 19th century, purports the model to be Leonardo’s mother, Caterina, and the painting to be a subconscious manifestation of the artist’s attachment to her memory and to his childhood. The third theory explains the resemblance of the artist to the model by theorizing that the Mona Lisa is actually a self-portrait of the artist, bequeathed as a puzzle to those who view her.In 2013, the Giocondo family tombs were excavated in the hope that DNA testing could settle the question once and for all. The exhumation, however, did not get us any closer to solving the mystery.