When Marcel Duchamp drew a pair of moustaches on the Mona Lisa…

A partial transcript of episode 23 of THE ART MOVEMENT, my weekly arts and culture radio show.

The influence of the Mona Lisa, of course, extends far beyond its status as a symbol of populist hostilities between two countries. It is a timeless work of art.

One of the most notable examples of how its legacy came as a result of its fame, when in 1919, noted artist and provocateur Marcel Duchamp drew a pair of moustaches on a picture or a postcard of the Mona Lisa.

This was not the first time the Mona Lisa had been parodied but it is the most famous example. Duchamp’s satirical take on Leonardo’s painting presented a less than reverent way of relating to past artistic tradition and was part of his “found object” works.

Duchamp titled his take on the Mona Lisa LHOOQ, which when read in French roughly translates to “Her ass is on fire,” and is a rude way of saying that she is insatiably horny. Clearly, the provocation was aimed at the art establishment and offered a new way of looking at art, shaking the shackles of academia off it.

Elle a Chaud au Cul has been referred to as a landmark work in the history of postmodernism. Some have claimed that it is, in fact, the beginning of postmodernism.

For certain, we see its influence replicated in the meme culture of today, which I am uncertain as to whether it should be referred to as an art movement or an art form but I am certainly not quick to dismiss, as far as its role in modern art is concerned.

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Should the French return the Mona Lisa to Italy?

A partial transcript of episode 23 of THE ART MOVEMENT, my weekly arts and culture radio show.

If I was to say the word “painting,” which of the most famous paintings would be the first to pop into your head? I bet I can predict that many people would instantly think of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.

This half-length portrait, which took Leonardo five years to complete was completed in 1507 and has charmed people all over the world for centuries. It has been defined as the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about and the most parodied work of art in the world.

In Italy, where I was born and where I am currently based, the Mona Lisa has a darker connotation. In fact, it’s been used by populists as a symbol for the traditional hostilities between Italy and France.

The general thought behind it is that the Mona Lisa is an important part of Italian cultural heritage and it was stolen by France (some even claim it was Napoleon who stole it). These people also say that it should be returned to Italy, where it belongs.

Actually, these claims are simply not true and yet another example of how art can be used to nurture unfounded hostilities, and that we should be careful about that.

Yes, Leonardo da Vinci was Italian. Yes, the man who commissioned the Mona Lisa was Italian. His name was Francesco del Giocondo and the sitter was his wife. It took Leonardo five years to complete the painting and he finished it in 1507.

But he never sold it to Francesco del Giocondo, partly because he saw it as a work of conceptual art rather than a mere portrait. It’s hard to disagree and many have written works where they support such a thesis.

Just recently, a research concluded that the much-talked about smile of the Mona Lisa is fascinating because it’s not a fully formed smile but a smile in the process of becoming one.

Because Leonardo realized its worth, he kept it with him and traveled with it in 1511 when he went to France, after being called by the King himself. Leonardo spent his final years in France and when he died there, his assistant Salai, who is also known as being his lover, inherited the painting. It was Salai who rightfully sold it to King Francis the first, the King of France, for 4,000 gold coins and thus, the Mona Lisa has rightfully been kept by the French government since then.

The only exception occurred in 1911, when a worker of the Louvre named Vincenzo Peruggia, stole it and took it back to Italy. This is the only actual known case of the painting being stolen and it was an Italian who stole it from the French. The Mona Lisa was presumed lost for some years until in 1913, Peruggia was discovered and arrested after attempting to sell it to a gallery in Florence for the equivalent of $100,000.

When the arrest was made, the Italian state returned the painting to France, and it has been housed by the Louvre ever since. However, Italy did try and occasionally does try to have its masterpiece returned.

Notable figures joined in the battle cry, in support for this cause, including George Clooney, who resides by Lake Como. Indeed, France may have considered returning the Mona Lisa to Italy, had it not been for the fact that the painting is far too fragile to be moved. Well, at least that’s what they say.

But I don’t see why they should return it. France rightfully bought the painting so it doesn’t need to return anything. In any case, I don’t particularly think that those who call for the Mona Lisa to be returned actually have the interest of the artwork itself in mind.

Actually, there have been cases of artworks from countries taken by other countries, particularly during several of the European wars. But I don’t hear as much said about the vast majority of them.

I mean, Europe was plagued by wars for centuries and the one thing that put a significant stop to that was the establishment of the European Union, which is maligned by the vast majority of the people who ignorantly claim that the Mona Lisa should be returned to Italy but who have no idea of how the Mona Lisa ended up in France in the first place.

In any event, I actually see the presence of artworks of different origins scattered all over Europe or the world, for that matter, as important cultural bridges that should unite people rather than inspire hostilities.

Download the full radio show HERE.

THE ART MOVEMENT – Episode 23 (RADIO SHOW)

Welcome to THE ART MOVEMENT, a radio show about arts and culture, where all art forms and free thoughts are allowed. The show is hosted and produced by globe-trotting arts presenter Matt Micucci, and features plenty of music, interview clips and thoughts on current events.

Listen to Episode 23 via one of the players below.

Download the full show here.

In this episode:

  • The 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa;
  • Marcel Duchamp and the beginning of post-modernism;
  • What drives Henry Rollins;
  • Find your mentors in artworks;

and more, plus lots of music.

5 CLIPS FROM THE ART MOVEMENT – Episode 15 (RADIO SHOW)

Here are five clips from the latest episode of my radio show, THE ART MOVEMENT, the weekly radio show hosted/produced by arts presenter Matt Micucci. The show revolves around art and culture, and where all art forms and free thoughts are allowed.

(To listen to the full show, scroll to the bottom of the page.)

A short history of the myth of the Stonewall Riots

Ancient Greek warriors Achilles and Patroclus are said to have been gay lovers. Why?

Yes, Leonardo had a quick eye. But he also had a queer eye.

My reading of Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art”

A short history of the LGBTQ+ movement of the early ’90s, known as New Queer Cinema.

Lots more where that came from! You can listen to the full epsiode of THE ART MOVEMENT (including the music) via one of the players below.

Leonardo Had a Quick Eye and a Queer Eye

A partial transcript of Episode 15 of THE ART MOVEMENT. To listen to the full radio show, click here.

Have you ever heard of a show titled Queer Eye for the Straight Guy? This was a reality TV show where a team of gay men dispensed advice on fashion, food, wine and culture to straight counterparts who have trouble impressing the ladies. Get ready for the silliest segue ever, as a new research conducted by a scientist in Switzerland has been released and it focuses on how Leonardo Da Vinci’s superior visual acuity might have enabled the master to depict liminal moments, including the Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile in his works.

Professor David S Thaler focused on drawings by da Vinci of dragonfly in movement and how their wings are out of sync – something confirmed centuries later. This led Thaler and colleagues to determine that the great master saw the world in a kind of ‘freeze frame’ where he could remember an individual shot in a sequence. 

On the subject of the Mona Lisa, Thaler writes that the “enigmatic nature” of the subject’s smile “may be that it is not a smile being held but the transient moment of a smile being formed. Perhaps Leonardo was able to apprehend Lisa’s smile effectively in slow motion and thereby capture the most meaningful transients of movement.”

Not much is known about why Leonardo never gave his painting of the Mona Lisa to the depicted woman’s husband — if indeed the painting had been commissioned at all. But the point that I wanted to get at is that this research on Leonardo’s quick eye was released during Pride Month and this is as good a time as any to remind people that Leonardo also had a queer eye. See that segue now?

The thousands of pages written by Leonardo in his journals provide plenty of clues to conclude without a doubt that he was romantically attracted to men. An article on The New Yorker states that Leonardo was arrested in 1476, when he was on the verge of 24, he was arrested for practicing homoerotic acts with the 17 year old apprentice of a local goldsmith. At the time, of course, Renaissance Florence was doing its best to control sodomy, because it was notorously prevalent in the territory that the contemporary German slang for a homosexual was Florenzer.

He got lucky on this occasion, jailed for a relatively short period of time, though other legal punishments would have ranged from a large fine to burning at the stake. Nevertheless, this event did not discourage Leonardo from loving other men throughout his life. An article on bbc.com mentions two of them: Francesco Melzi, who became something of a private secretary to the Renaissance genius in 1505, and Gian Giacomo Caprotti, better known as Salaí, who by the way is rumored to have been the real model for the Mona Lisa.

So, quick eye and queer eye? Both, I believe, are essential parts of Leonardo’s huge body of work — though some would probably rather conveniently forget about the queer eye!

THE ART MOVEMENT – Episode 15 (RADIO SHOW)

Welcome to THE ART MOVEMENT, a radio show about the arts and culture, where all art forms and free thoughts are allowed. The show is hosted by globe-trotting art presenter Matt Micucci, featuring plenty of music, interview clips and thoughts on current events.

In this episode: Stonewall Riots, Achilles & Patroclus, Elizabeth Bishop, Leonardo Da Vinci & more.

Also available on IHeartRadio and Podbean.