What It's Like Seeing The Mona Lisa In Person
I think the cat’s pretty much out of the bag here; for the most part everyone knows not to expect a huge portrait when they visit the most famous painting in the Louvre. But I think my take away is quite different from the general “Argh, it’s so small! What’s the point!” There’s definitely a point, in my opinion. And I did walk away still awestruck, even though the experience wasn’t what I thought it would be.
I’m pretty sure I’ve said this in a previous post, but when I visited Paris I only had 24 hours, and the truth is you could fill the entirety of those 24 hours just exploring about 3% of the Louvre. So I knew I had to make a bee line for the Mona Lisa. After a looooooong walk from the Eiffel Tower to the museum’s famous glass pyramid, we followed the massive crowd to the painting. I knew that it would be sectioned off, I knew it would be small. But, even though this is common knowledge I’ll repeat it - the Mona Lisa is surrounded by glass, it’s sectioned off so you can’t get within several feet, and it is, truly, quite small. To me that wasn’t a huge deal. The size of a painting has never been what mattered to me. Though large scale works are truly impressive, most of the time they’re smaller pieces then put together at the end anyway. And I knew that the glass and distance was to protect the piece from changing temperatures, light, and pesky visitors that think they’re proving something by playing ‘let’s poke the painting’. I totally sympathize with all that. What I felt less enthusiastic about was the crowd. I can’t say I didn't expect it, but the massive group of people surrounding the Mona Lisa only cared about one thing, getting a selfie with it.
Did I miss something? Don't people go to see art to go and see art? I won’t lie, I definitely love a good selfie, but that takes, maybe, 3 seconds at most and then I’m there to stare in awe at a painting over 500 years old. To marvel at the fact that da Vinci himself touched this thing that’s right in front of me. To stand in amazement thinking about how many other people have stood before this very same piece, from tourists to royalty. And to be honest I’m caught between, hey don't judge, and noooooo put your camera down and admire the actual painting! I’m not sure what the right answer is here, but the latter was definitely how I felt in the moment.
Either way, this phenomena only seemed to happen around the Mona Lisa, so I’m imagining it’s the fame of the painting that causes people to forget to soak in the moment while it’s happening, and want to preserve it in a snap shot forever. Still a great experience, though a frustrating one.