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

Updated 23 April 2014
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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.”


King Abdul Aziz Foundation archives around 6,000 interviews with Saudis

Researching and recording oral histories can give a sense of cultural value. (Photo/Social media)
Updated 22 October 2018
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King Abdul Aziz Foundation archives around 6,000 interviews with Saudis

  • Darah assigned a number of specialized teams to carry out visits to the Kingdom’s different regions

RIYADH: The Oral History Center of the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah) has archived around 6,000 interviews with Saudi nationals past and present, said the Saudi Press Agency.
The Saudi Oral History Center was established in 1997. It was the third of its kind in the world, after the United States and Britain.
Darah hosts millions of books, recordings, photographs, maps and manuscripts and is considered the main source of Saudi national history inside the Kingdom, and abroad through the Oral History Center.
Darah assigned a number of specialized teams to carry out visits to the Kingdom’s different regions, speak to citizens about their histories, study sources of national history, and document the accounts of those who directly or indirectly contributed to the Kingdom’s history.
It conducted audio-visual interviews with many contemporaries and witnesses, and transcribed them, and investigated those stories based on scientific and technical protocols. It did this in cooperation with universities and international centers specializing in oral history, and with national and regional institutions interested in oral history and heritage.
Darah sees oral history — a precise account from eyewitnesses, or reported contemporary accounts — as an important resource. Many Western countries place great emphasis on oral histories and have established specialized centers to record and preserve such accounts.
The Foundation also considers oral histories a useful tool that can fill gaps left in recorded history, especially regarding personal histories of families.
Researching and recording oral histories can also provide the elderly with a sense of value and bring generations closer together.