In Mona Lisa’s smile, US historian sees a feminist

Updated 23 April 2014
0

In Mona Lisa’s smile, US historian sees a feminist

WASHINGTON: It’s taken him 12 years, but an amateur art historian from Texas reckons he’s solved the mystery of the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile, five centuries after it was immortalized by Leonardo da Vinci.
In a just-published book, “The Lady Speaks: Uncovering the Secrets of the Mona Lisa,” William Varvel argues that La Gioconda was a 16th-century feminist who favored a greater role for women in the Catholic church.
“La Gioconda was trying to get people to see that the New Jerusalem would be here as soon as you recognize women’s theological rights,” Varvel, 53, a former mathematics professor, told AFP in a telephone interview.
“La Gioconda may be a grand statement for women’s rights,” he added.
His theory joins many others — some serious, others fanciful — surrounding what is perhaps the world’s most famous painting, which draws legions of tourists every day to the Louvre museum in Paris.
History remembers the Mona Lisa as Lisa del Giocondo, a mother of five born into an aristocratic Florentine family whose husband, a cloth and silk merchant, commissioned the portrait.
Da Vinci, who had already painted The Last Supper for a Dominican convent, toiled on the oil-on-poplar painting from 1503 to 1506 and perhaps several years after.
In his 180-page book that’s not always an easy read, Varvel explains that, in the course of his career, Da Vinci had painted “each and every verse” of the final chapter of the Old Testament’s book of Zechariah, which anticipates the rise of an ideal society within a New Jerusalem.
Fascination with the Mona Lisa endures: over the years, some viewers claim to have sensed mysterious signs in her eyes, her voice has been reconstructed by Japanese enthusiasts, and a doctor once diagnosed her as having an excess of cholesterol.
“It’s even been said that she’s a man, even the portrait of Leonardo da Vinci himself,” art historian Laure Fagnart told AFP.
“In my mind, there’s nothing that’s really hidden from us,” added Fagnart, a specialist in Renaissance art at the University of Liege in Belgium who has not read Varvel’s book.
“This is the portrait of a bourgeois woman like dozens of others from that time, albeit perhaps more difficult to read than other works,” she said.
“Da Vinci was an artist who put thought into his painting, he did nothing in an innocent fashion.”
For all the years he’s committed to studying the Mona Lisa, Varvel has never actually seen it up close.
“I’m not going to fight the crowd to see La Gioconda,” he said. “If I go to Paris, the Louvre is going to give me a private showing — and if they don’t, I won’t go.”


My Ramadan with Safi Enayat: Experiencing the Holy Month in Copenhagen

Updated 21 May 2018
0

My Ramadan with Safi Enayat: Experiencing the Holy Month in Copenhagen

  • Safi Enayat came to Copenhagen as a refugee from Afghanistan in 2001
  • This Ramadan, he’s hosting a pop-up iftar with chefs from Baker & Spice Dubai

COPENHAGEN: Safi Enayat came to Copenhagen as a refugee from Afghanistan in 2001 and found a job washing dishes in a restaurant kitchen before working his way up to become head chef and a restaurant owner in his own right. His cooking is a reflection of the diverse cultural influences that have characterized his life, from the traditional Afghan dishes with a modern twist he cooks for friends to the Indian-inspired cuisine served in his restaurant chain dhaba.dk, as well as the international fare he has encountered in Europe. This Ramadan, he’s hosting a pop-up iftar with chefs from Baker & Spice Dubai which aims to attract a mixed crowd of Muslims and non-Muslims to break bread over delicious Arabic food.

Read on to experience Ramadan in the European city in his own words...

Everyday life goes on as normal during Ramadan in Copenhagen because the Muslim community here is not that big. In general, people congregate at the city’s larger mosques to pray and break the fast together. There are a few larger events that I look forward to, such as Iftar på Rådhuspladsen, when everyone gathers in City Hall Square and brings a dish to share with their family and friends. It’s an amazing feeling, sitting on the floor in front of this beautiful venue with people from all cultures — Danish, Afghan, Arabs… usually several hundred people attend. Here, you have the right to enjoy your religion as you want and while Danes might be curious to know why we fast, they are very accepting. Last year one of my Danish friends called during Ramadan to say he was fasting for the day to understand it better. I was touched. I think it showed a lot of respect for my religion, which is something I often find here.

Since coming here, I feel like Ramadan has become more visible, people are more aware of what is going on and more interested in why Muslims are fasting and why they do it for so long. It’s a friendly interest. With the long days at this time of the year, many Muslims in Denmark choose to take some of their summer holidays during Ramadan so they have less work and can enjoy the Holy Month.

We’ll be hosting a pop-up iftar called The Opposite Kitchen with Baker & Spice from June 2 to June 8, which is something new to the city. We’ll invite everyone from all cultures and religions to come and learn about the meaning of Ramadan. For me, the beautiful message behind Ramadan is that when you fast, you can see what it’s like for someone who is starving on the other side of the world and can’t put food on the table, and I think it’s important to understand that. I also think that food is an important way of bringing people together. It’s something we all share and enjoy. I found my way into the Danish community through food, it was an easy way to become a citizen of the city and a part of life here. I’ve been here for so many years that this is home for me now.