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Meditation on Mona Lisa

Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 09:10 UK time, Saturday, 18 February 2012

This entry is sent from Paris from my break.

My son who is now 17 is of the age when all of a sudden he has started to re-appreciate trips with his parents and is unexpectedly enjoying every bit of Paris.

We went to Louvre to do a pilgrimage to Leonardo's Mona Lisa.

I spent my usual 20-30 minutes gazing not just at Giocondo, but looking at those who, like myself, were staring at her.

When I finished my ritual my son said that didn't find the famous Mona Lisa as beautiful as people say.

I told him a well-known joke, that after being admired and loved by so many people over the centuries she has got a privilege to choose by whom to be admired.

My quick response didn't satisfy my son.

Then I appealled to him intellectually and started a long lecture the outlines of which are here.

I started with a concept of 'sfumato' adopted by Leonardo.

Though it's to do with the specifics of light and colour, I took the gist of that concept and told him that it ascends to the Aristotle's idea of measure, ie everything is perfect not at the extremes, but is perfect when balanced in the right measure.

For instance as Aristotle says, bravery is good but the positive extreme of it is recklessness, whereas the negative extreme is cowardice...

So then I passed onto Mona Lisa and said: "Yes, she is not ravishingly beautiful, but neither is she frighteningly ugly."

Look at her hair, it is neither curly, nor straight, neither too long nor too short. Their colour is neither too dark, nor too light.

The same with every feature of her face: her sight both invites and pushes away. Her eyes are vulnerably warm and at the same time calculatingly cold.

The famous smile is both encouraging and reproaching...

Look at her bosom, you wouldn't say that it's depicted explicitly, but you wouldn't either say that it's fully covered. There's a hint there too.

Her hands in front of her sometimes seem to me tender, sometimes gross.

All painting is about a perfect balance and ambiguity.

Compare it with Leonardo's other portrait of Saint-Batiste. It's the same smile, the same technique, but the saint is unequivocally pointing out towards the heaven, whereas Mona Lisa is as earthly as divine.

There's a verse by the great Persian poet Hafez, who says:
"That man is worthwhile who knows the hints, there are many clever people, but where is a sharer of secrets?"

At this point, my son agreed. Maybe just to stop my rambling...

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