That Mona Lisa Smile and Stendhal Syndrome

That Mona Lisa Smile and Stendhal Syndrome


A few weeks ago I got to finally visit the Louvre in Paris. A word of warning: this is the second biggest museum in the world. Even knowing this didn’t not prepare me for the sheer scale of the place. It is ENORMOUS. Unbelievably big. I’ve walked round the outside of it several times but it never sank in how huge it is. With this in mind, we planned to go to one exhibit first and see how much time we had after that. I’m glad we made this decision because by the time we’d corralled the group and walked what felt like about a mile (it may actually have been close to this) we were running out of time.

The exhibit was of course the Mona Lisa, by Leonardo Da Vinci. We walked past countless works of breathtakingly amazing art. I had to stop even glancing around me. I’m somewhat prone to Stendhal syndrome, that psychosomatic disorder where a person becomes totally overwhelmed by beauty to the extent they can faint or become otherwise incapacitated. So I focused on just getting us all to the painting.

I’m afraid I was underwhelmed. This is the most famous painting in the world:

It’s quite dull, behind bulletproof glass and a horde of people snapping away. To me, it had no atmosphere except that which the long walk and expectation created. It didn’t overwhelm me, even though I was primed to be knocked over. Worth billions itself and worth billions more through related merchandising, I just thought, “Meh!” and turned away. Call me a Phillistine if you like but it did nothing for me.

Later that evening, I finally had my portrait sketched at the artists’ square at Montmartre. The artists were doing good business and one offered to do mine for just 20 euros; I glanced at his work and decided to sit. Everyone agreed that he’d done astounding work for just fifteen minutes sketching.

Art and beauty are very subjective things but I’d rather appreciate something for its appeal to me than be swept along with the hype.


10 thoughts on “That Mona Lisa Smile and Stendhal Syndrome

  1. I like the drawing of you. What is it, I wonder, that makes one work of art so famous and another, equally skillfully rendered, not? Probably some of the same mix that goes into best-sellers that are no better than the deserving underlings that never see light of day. Random synchronicity (oxymoron I know), perhaps.


  2. The beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder, and like you, I see nothing special about the Mona Lisa. I’ve seen others make me stand there in awe, and they’re only worth a few hundred dollars.


  3. Haven’t seen the Mona Lisa but have always been underwhelmed by reproductions. Maybe if you stumbled across it unexpectedly…? Is Stendhal Syndrome contagious! I might want to catch it.


  4. I saw the mona lisa decades ago – the fact that it sits behind bullet proof glass probably doesn’t help to appreciate it. You can’t really see it, it is almost a reproduction because of that covering. And the busyness of people.


  5. My mum, the art expert, says it’s not even Da Vinci’s best work… but everybody wants to see it.
    I don’t agree with many art-experts. I believe art is subjective. And yeah, your portrait looks better than the Mona Lisa. But that’s just me! 😉


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