Home Travel Armchair Adventures: Secrets of the Mona Lisa 

Armchair Adventures: Secrets of the Mona Lisa 

Mona Lisa in the Louvre, Paris

By Evelyn Kelly, PhD 

My daughter Natalie and I had our first overseas adventure in 1993; I remember how green we were. (I can say that now, having visited 86 countries and all the states except Vermont.) We were with an overland group traveling for three weeks and our second stop was Paris. We were in a hotel away from everything, but we were determined to see the Mona Lisa and the Louvre although our schedule did not include it. 

We braved the Paris subway to the Louvre, asked for directions to the Mona Lisa, and were directed to a hall. A few people were looking at other paintings, and there were three or four people gathered in front of Leonardo’s masterpiece. She was a lot smaller than we thought, but we were able to look, talk, and enjoy. 

Her dress was embroidered with tiny, intricate loops I have never noticed in pictures; her hands were relaxed. We had heard Leonardo loved rocky landscapes, but these were different. The painting of the horizon on the right is higher, offering a bird’s eye view of the rocks; the one on the left is much lower, with flowing water. There is no way these two horizons could meet; could this have something to do with the mysterious smile? The left background appears to pull the eye down; the right seems to push it up.

Are we imagining that she is about to really break into a smile? This small painting has inspired poetry, songs, paintings, sculptures, novels, movies, myths, forgeries and theft. “Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa; or just a cold and lonely work of art?” 

Related: Armchair Adventures: The Ice Fields of Banff, Canada

Our second tour of Paris in 2015 included the Louvre. Mona Lisa had moved to a room of her own and hundreds of excited bodies were stuffed into the room she shared with the Italian master painter Caravaggio. Few cared for Caravaggio – they were all excited about Mona Lisa and holding cell phones and cameras over their heads for photos. We were pushed and pulled, but never made up it to the painting this time. Can she endure all the flashes and adoration for over 500 years and keep her secrets and her smile? I hope she can, because we didn’t get to see her again.