I know that you’ll have been pondering weighty questions such as “Did the Mona Lisa have any eyelashes?” and “What did she look like naked?” (without her varnish) and “What’s scribbled on the back of the painting?”. If these questions have been keeping you awake at night, then you’ll find all the answers you need at the Da Vinci Exhibition at MOSI (Museum of science and Industry) in Manchester.
The Da Vinci exhibition includes mock ups of Leonardo’s amazing inventions including Leonardo’s bicycle and his detailed anatomical drawings, but I really enjoyed the section about the secrets of the Mona Lisa, based on photographic analysis of the iconic portrait. Photographer Pascal Cotte was allowed to photograph both the back and front of the Mona Lisa out of it’s frame using a 240-million pixel camera that enabled him to create a replica of the picture down to the finest detail.
If you’ve tried to visit the Mona Lisa in the Louvre and been disappointed because of the protective glass case and the crowds, then it’s great to get close enough to see every detail (albeit a replica). You can even see the scribbled marks on the back of the painting where various curators have made their notes over the years.
The photographic analysis allowed the portrait’s original pigment colours to be revealed and the exhibition shows a series of enlarged portraits comparing the colours as they are today, how they would be without the protective varnish and how it would have looked when it was first painted. There was something a bit Warhol-esque about seeing multiple Mona Lisas, all in slightly different colourway. Apparently when first painted there was lots more blue in the background, demonstrating the wealth of the patron as the Lapis Lazuli pigment used was one of the most expensive colours around.
Then there was the vexing question of her eyelashes. At first glance it looks as if she barely has any but the photography was able to show that they were there, just very faded over the years. I guess poor Mona’s starting to feel her age.
I did enjoy being to stand close to the Mona Lisa replica with no-one to stop me pressing my nose up to the glass so I could look at the painting in great detail. And there’s something slightly indecent about seeing all the nail holes and pencil marks and on the back of the painting scribbled by museum curators over the years. It made me realise that she’s just a painting after all, to be shipped from A to B , from palace to palace, for the pleasure of kings and princes.
Nowadays it seems she’s stuck in the Louvre, like a beauty with over-protective parents who won’t let her get out and about or even go travelling around the galleries of the world. There was a whole wall of closeups of those famous eyes that follow you around, just to demonstrate the point about her lashes, and I think I could detect a little sadness there.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get time to do the whole MOSI museum justice but it’s full of facinating exhibitions, including the one bit that we did walk through about the drains and sanitation of Manchester. No really! Sewers can be full of fun and are an integral part of Manchester’s social history as its population exploded during the industrial revolution causing all sorts of problems of dirt and disease due to poor sanitation.
The museum is in an old railway yard with the five engine sheds now converted in to exhibition space – there’s even a small steam engine you can ride up and down on. It’s a great place for families with plenty of hands on activities and it’s free too.
The Da Vinci exhibition is on at MOSI in Manchester until June 13 2010 and costs £7.50 for adults but I believe that this exhibition travels the world with Grande Exhibitions, so you may see it coming to another city in the world near you soon.
Have you visited the Mona Lisa at the Louvre and what did you make of her – did you get close enough to spot her eye lashes?
Thanks to CreativeTourist.com who sponsored my trip to Manchester and enabled me to get up close with the Mona Lisa – you’ll find all the creative inspiration you need about exhibitions, museums and creative happenings in Manchester on their website at Creativetourist.com
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