The Mona Lisa is instantly recognizable by the crowd of people standing before it, most of them taking photos. It’s in a large hall with lots of other paintings, most of which aren’t very interesting to me, but one of which is.

tintorettoIt’s a self-portrait by Tintoretto. He looks thoughtful, even sad, and directs his gaze straight into the viewer’s eyes. He isn’t getting a lot of attention. As with every other painting in this room, most visitors have their backs to this one, as they strain to see the celebrity nearby.

mona lisaOn the other hand, even when one is looking right at the Mona Lisa, it’s hard to see it. It’s a gorgeous painting–did Leonardo paint any other kind? But there are so many layers of marketing, jokes, pop culture, parody, etc. making a thick veil of familiarity between us and her. Simply encountering the painting face to face is impossible. So maybe Tintoretto’s sadness is not for himself, but for her and her creator. Or even for us.

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