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[MUSIC PLAYING] BETH HARRIS: We thought we would start by looking at what is perhaps the most famous painting in the world, and whether we can actually even really still see. SAL KHAN: Right. Because I have seen this before. And I've even visited it at the Louvre-- I know I'm pronouncing it wrong. Yes, you're right. This is probably the most famous painting world. BETH HARRIS: And I just read that most people spend about 15 seconds in the Louvre looking at the painting, which is a funny statistic. SAL KHAN: Well, it's stressful, because there's people behind you. And on top of that, it's actually surprisingly small when you see it in real life. I mean, now that I'm able to take my time, and not worry about the tourists behind me, and I'm looking at it for real, I'm already-- things are jumping out at me that I actually had never noticed before. BETH HARRIS: Like what? SAL KHAN: Well, it looks like the scenery is some kind of like Vulcan territory or something. [LAUGHING] There's this-- it's like mountainous, and well, I guess, there's a little bridge in there. There's a road. I guess I never paid much attention to that before. Yeah, actually, I'd never even noticed this chair she was on before either. You can see hand resting on it. Actually-- and I never noticed that there's a ledge, right behind her, where's there jars. I could probably keep going. BETH HARRIS: I like your analogy to Vulcan territory, as a Star Trek fan myself. That landscape is otherworldly and very mysterious. But it's Interesting, isn't it, how the bottom part of the landscape at her neck and below looks like an inhabited landscape with a winding road and a bridge, but the landscape that's at her neck and head is more mysterious and looks very much like another planet? SAL KHAN: That's right. And actually, when you point that out and how that painting is divided based on where those landscapes and the ledge divide the painting, I don't have my ruler out, but I would guess that it's pretty close to the golden mean. BETH HARRIS: I think you're probably right. Those things that look like jars are actually the bottom of columns cut off on either side of the painting. SAL KHAN: So Leonardo da Vinci actually painted the columns, and it was cropped? BETH HARRIS: That's right. And so the space that she's in would have made a lot more sense as a balcony. SAL KHAN: Well, you know, all of this-- actually, just take a step back. I mean, we started with this presumption that it's-- and it's true-- that it's probably the most famous painting in the world, but I guess, I've never quite gotten why. I mean, is this just a case of marketing? BETH HARRIS: I think it happened in 1911, when the painting was stolen from the Louvre and disappeared for a couple of years and became notorious. At that point in the 19th century, the "Mona Lisa" was not the most popular painting at the Louvre. Paintings by other artists, like Titian and Raphael, were much more popular and even valued more highly for insurance purposes. So it really probably is only in the 20th century that she became as important as she is now. SAL KHAN: If you go back 150 years ago, "Mona Lisa" was not something that was just ingrained in our culture. BETH HARRIS: She was important. People were interested in her, and people were writing about her and they said some interesting things. But she wasn't as famous as she is now. And also, don't forget that the technology to reproduce her existed only, really, in the 20th century in terms of mass color reproductions. And so her currency has certainly increased, I think, in the last 100 years or so. SAL KHAN: I see. If you go back 150 years, there was probably no such thing as super famous paintings. BETH HARRIS: I think that might be true, actually. There were paintings that were famous, or important, but not celebrities in the way that the "Mona Lisa" is. SAL KHAN: Right. Not something that every person on the street would recognize. BETH HARRIS: Yeah. And of course, now I think most people would say that what's so interesting about her is her look and her smile, which have been interpreted in many different ways. SAL KHAN: Yeah, I know. And I know that's kind of, I guess, one of the claims to fame of the painting. And you see that. I mean, people like to look at it-- is she smirking, is she happy, is she sad. All of these things. Is she looking at you. All of these things that people try to-- but, I guess, trying to look at it without all of the social programming that I've had around this painting, it strikes me is an interesting painting. And it seems very technically well done. And there's something very bright, and just kind of an aura around her face. I don't know if I wasn't programmed to really know this painting and if I were to see this in the museum amongst many, many others, that I would-- it really jump out at me. BETH HARRIS: Portraits really took off during the Renaissance beginning in the 1400s in Italy. And Leonardo painted this in Florence. And that's because of humanism. One way that we define humanism is taking an interest in human beings, and the things of this world, and human achievement, and individuality. All of those values becoming more important in the 15th century. And so we begin to see a lot more portraits. Also with the beginnings of a wealthy merchants class in Florence in the 15th century, people could afford portraits and begin to want them. At first, portraits were painted with the figure in profile. But later, especially in northern Europe, artists like Durer or Memling started to put their figures in believable spaces. SAL KHAN: Right. BETH HARRIS: And so, Leonardo's really the first artist in Italy to do those things. To make an oil painting, which is a relatively new medium in Italy. SAL KHAN: What did people use before oil? BETH HARRIS: They used fresco and tempera painting. Tempera for panel painting. So this is oil on wood, whereas before, artists would paint tempera on wood. Tempera tends to look more flat than oil paint, where you can really get a sense of modeling and light and dark. So Leonardo's making this three-dimensional figure, and he's using another technique called sfumato, which means a kind of smokey haziness. So he obscures the hard outlines around the forms, which tend to flatten them. One of the things that's fun to talk about with the Mona Lisa, too, is all the things that people have said about her over the years. You might not be aware of the fact that Sigmund Freud actually had a particular interpretation of the Mona Lisa. SAL KHAN: Yes, I'm sure he did. [LAUGHTER] I'm somewhat skeptical of him. I would like to interpret his interpretations someday. But yes. BETH HARRIS: Freud said that the "Mona Lisa's" smile combined the two ways that we tend to look at women in our culture. In one way, she's very mothering and nurturing. And in the other way, she seems very seductive. SAL KHAN: I think that says more about Freud than about Leonardo. BETH HARRIS: You could be right. [LAUGHTER] And later artists, another artist that you already know, Duchamp-- SAL KHAN: Duchamp, my favorite. BETH HARRIS: Your favorite. He took a reproduction of the "Mona Lisa" and drew a mustache on her. SAL KHAN: I could imagine him doing that. [LAUGHTER] BETH HARRIS: I think the moustache is interesting, because there is something not entirely feminine about her. Something a little bit masculine. SAL KHAN: Do you think it's that? Or I mean, I guess there is a certain-- I mean, it's kind of old now, especially because Duchamp did it, I'm guessing, 80, 90 years ago. But there is something hilarious about drawing a mustache on a feminine form. We all remember doing it as school kids-- just getting a kick out of it. And I could see it's especially funny for this painting. BETH HARRIS: Taking something that's so high art and making it silly, you know? SAL KHAN: Exactly. BETH HARRIS: Recently, the Prado in Madrid, found what turns out to be, after some scientific testing, a copy of the "Mona Lisa," which in and of itself is not that unusual, but it turns out that their copy was made by another artist sitting right next to Leonardo copying what he did stroke for stroke. And they can tell this by analyzing the under drawing. SAL KHAN: Yeah, she looks much younger. BETH HARRIS: She has eyebrows. SAL KHAN: Oh, that's right. It makes you appreciate it. That's where the creepiness comes from, because the "Mona Lisa" we see looks jaundiced-- it's yellow. And so, the painting is a little bit different. The face is a little bit different, but we can assume that the colors might have not been that different. BETH HARRIS: Exactly. And it's a really interesting thing to think about. What she would look like if she was cleaned. And if she would still mean what she means to us. If she-- SAL KHAN: Oh, I don't think she would, because when I look at this cleaned painting, it loses a lot of the mystery. BETH HARRIS: Yeah, I agree. And you can then understand the Louvre's decision not to clean her. SAL KHAN: I mean, the cleaned one, she looks better. She looks younger. She loses a lot of the motherly aspects that Freud seems to want to ascribe to her. Yeah, because the colors are brighter, they're more vibrant, it's not as muted as the one that we've learned to like. BETH HARRIS: Yeah. Although, her reputation has grown over the years, who's to say that we won't care so much about her again. SAL KHAN: There might be a post-celebrity world at some point. [LAUGHTER] [MUSIC PLAYING]