My life has been mostly stress-free this week, and yet most people would call what I have been doing with my time totally meaningless. On Christmas Eve I started thinking about showing Mona Lisa in 3D stereo, and on December 27, 2015 I put in some ten hours working on a first-level cleaning of the Wikipedia’s biggest image of the Paris, Louvre painting of the Mona Lisa. There is a parallel painting in Madrid’s Prado museum, and when they are viewed side by side by crossing one’s eyes, they can be fused into a stereo image. Or using a special optical viewing device they can be seen with normal eye positions. Since then I have worked between ten and sixteen hours a day on cleaning up the Paris image, and am probably more than halfway done. I hope to get life-size prints made and mounted side by side, next to a wooden chair similar to Mona Lisa’s chair, with the pictures set at proper height so people can have photos taken of themselves sitting beside her.
It would seem that cleaning a digital photograph of a painting would be routine and tedious, and yet it is very challenging mentally, and thus fun, because there are so many layers of different kinds of contamination, acquired since 1506, that need to be coped with and eliminated.
There were many different kinds of paint used and each one of them deteriorated in a different way, shrinking, changing color, responding differently to the layers of protective varnish that were applied, as well as the cracking of the paints and protective varnishes, and the filling in of the various cracks with different colors of gunk, and the various glares from the different cracks, and strange drips that appeared, and possibly insect depredations, and blizzards of salt-and-pepper specks and streaks. Sometimes the accumulated crud covers over ninety percent of the visible surface, and yet sometimes it is only ten percent obscured and the remaining tiny patches of paint seem to be pristine; sometimes there are screws, and sometimes chunks of paint have fallen off and are gone. There are perfect patches that may be only one millimeter across and very irregularly shaped, but they are enough to work with, and may be linked together to reveal an intriguing young woman.
A detail from the Paris, Louvre museum, showing some problems.
Fortunately the face and eyes are in relatively good condition, and they are the essence of the painting. One of the more difficult places was the lower neck and upper chest because they have softly graded colors in the original, but covered by vast woven tracks of black cracks with few patches appearing to be pristine. I don’t like repainting, I like revealing what the original painting was intended to look like. It appeared that the restorations of the Prado Mona Lisa took considerable liberties in restoring their copy to a condition that made it look good to the modern viewer, and let the original drift off into the unseen background. Their image makes the young woman look naïve and a little bloated, whereas the Paris one is sophisticated and mysterious. It seems most people who have seen both of these paintings agree with that interpretation, so I’m not making that up, or just projecting my own prejudices into the picture.
Those were my stressors of the last two weeks; but I chose them, so they were pleasurable, not painful.