Mona Lisa Selfies: Visiting the Louvre

Being an art history nerd, I was quite excited to visit the Louvre Museum for the first time. I brought my camera along mainly to photography the massive collection of wonderful figurative sculpture. Upon arriving however, I found a slightly more entertaining subject matter: the other guests at the museum taking photos.

louvre_7.23_selfie in front of michelangelo sculpture_x3_1600[Woman snapping a selfie in front of Michelangelo’s Dying Slave]

louvre_7.25_michelangelo_dying slave_x2[My version of the sculpture]

After photographing the happenings of the Mona Lisa exhibit, I decided to write a short piece about my experience which follows below:

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Entering the room of the Mona Lisa, I was keen to photograph the frenzied masses of viewers in the same way an excited nature videographer captures footage of competing mud-covered water buffalo at the feeding hole. The room itself was covered wall to wall in giant magnificent works of religious mythology. Life-sized angels, demons, saints, and mortals engaged in theatric scenes of sin and redemption placed on the wall in thick frames of carefully gilded wood. The wide-eyed viewers, who had traveled from all parts of the earth, however did not seem to notice the other art in the room. They were instead shoving against each other to catch a glimpse of her, their painted majesty.

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Every hopeful with a smart phone or cheap digital camera in hand, obsessed with the possibility of photographing the most famous painting in the world, as if their 8 megapixel lens could capture the secret within her smile like no other ten-thousand dollar scanner had before. The shorter pilgrims equipped with so-called ‘selfie sticks’ they purchased outside from an army of trinket salesmen prowling in the courtyard of the Louvre, also peddling miniature glowing Eiffel towers made by foreign labor in factories far away. These ridiculous phone phalluses were used to thrust their precious devices above the taller heads standing in front of them, so they too could snap a pic of art history to then post immediately on instagram.

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While the more ambitious of the spectators managed to fight their way right up to the front of the airport-line barrier poles with more determination than drunken pilled-out punk rockers thrashing away in a sweaty mosh pit. These select martyrs had only one mission, to capture a once-in-a-lifetime selfie with no other than the renaissance diva herself. After meticulously snapping away at least ten or twenty self-righteous attempts, they made remarkably no effort to view the actual painting with naked eyes, instead staring at the digital masterpiece they themselves had just created in several seconds time. Perhaps this was what most disturbing and equally amusing, to see every eye fixated not on the real Mona Lisa but at her digitized version smiling coyly behind a brightly lit screen. It’s as if they couldn’t even process the image without the safety of their beloved devices and inevitable reassurance from their highly esteemed facebook posse.

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Slowly the De Vinci pilgrims, who were not surprisingly uninterested in the two other prominent Leonardo paintings in the preceding hallway, Virgin on the Rocks and La Belle Ferronniere, made their way to the gift shop conveniently located outside the sought-after painting. The heard was then lost amongst stationary supplies, coffee mugs, hand mirrors, chocolate bars, t-shirts, and tote bags all plastered with various parts of the Mona Lisa’s face and body. Not only children but fully grown adults attentively analyzed each commodity with more care and focus than any of the paintings they had just walked past. Like the room with the famous painting, the now consuming spectators failed to notice the massive 50 foot chiaroscuro oil paintings all hanging loftily above their heads. They were too distracted by the multitude of treasures which could actually be purchased, worn, eaten, or stuffed into a drawer at home.

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It seems strange to think that De Vinci’s most beloved painting which he never gave to original commissioner but instead kept hidden in his most valuable possessions, is now adhered to coffee mugs and smiling besides strange faces in countless numbers of selfies across the world wide web. Perhaps it was best the Renaissance master perished centuries before he could witness the widespread paparazzi-like defilement and global commodification of his enigmatic preciously painted La Gioconda.

August 1, 2016