Think Mona Lisa is always smiling? Think again. A new digital version brings the famous painting to life. This Lisa del Giocondo breathes, turns her head, and yes, even frowns.
Forty French technicians and artists have used artificial intelligence — and sensors like those found in video games — to create this “Living Mona Lisa” (called Living Joconde in France). Those famous eyes that have always SEEMED to follow you around the room? Now they literally do.
Florent Aziosmanoff, the creator of the Living Joconde, says this Lisa has a personality, emotions, and changing moods; she even frowns at you if she doesn’t like you. “She can sense changes in her surroundings,” Aziosmanoff told the The Telegraph. “Leonardo da Vinci tried to make her come alive, so it’s appropriate that we’ve taken his intentions a few steps further.”
Aziosmanoff and his team plan to produce this digital version for consumers — there’s even a Smart phone ap coming in case you want to carry a breathing Lisa around in your pocket. “This is primarily an artistic project, not a commercial one,” Aziosmanoff told The Telegraph, “but we want to make paintings cheap enough for tourists to buy and take home as a souvenir.”
Regardless of the merits of this digital version (I can already hear people cursing the commercialization of a Leonardo masterpiece; let that debate begin), I can’t help but wonder:
What would Leonardo and Lisa
think about this?
(I am, after all, a novelist — whose first novel explores BOTH of these historical figures. I tend to go immediately to this kind of unknowable/imaginary question. Go with it)…
Let’s start with the Master from Vinci:
The creators of this digital version are right about one thing — Leonardo did want to make Lisa come to life and this project attempts to take that a step forward.
Leonardo would be amazed with this technology. Artificial Intelligence, motion sensors, a digital surface that looks truly three-dimensional? Somewhere in Leonardo’s great mind, he probably conjured all of these possibilities during his own time; he just didn’t know how to achieve them. To see this kind of innovation applied to his own work would have made Leonardo giddy. I imagine him taking out his notebook and sketching the monitor — before realizing he didn’t need to do that anymore…
If Leonardo were alive today, he would take the technology in his own hands and fiddle with it until he improved it — made Lisa look even MORE alive… made her look more like the woman he knew…
We know very little about Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo. We know she descended from an old Florentine family, was married to the silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo, and was a mother.
Lisa, most likely, rarely left her house — except with an escort; most often to church. She perhaps never left the walls of Florence (as a female Florentine of her time, there is no reason to believe she traveled). That beautiful, sprawling landscape that rolls out behind her in the painting? For Lisa, a landscape like that was a rare sight. She spent her life in her house with her husband, children, servants, and parents. Her life was as contained as her portrait (go see it in the Louvre – it is quite small).
Lisa would not know what to make of such technology.
She probably would be afraid of it. Has an evil spirit imbued her image? Does some demon now have possession of her?
She might be embarrassed. The lady in the picture is very bold — looking here and there – smiling at strangers and frowning at them. That is no way for a Florentine wife and mother to behave. Leonardo had already given her a brazen smile — but this is too far! She might even ask her husband — or Leonardo, if Francesco del Giocondo does not also have the ability to time travel — to remove the picture.
But, ultimately, I think Lisa would laugh.
How do you feel when you see a digitized version of yourself — online or on some video game? Even the best rendition looks a little ridiculous, doesn’t it? You don’t quite look like that or move like that. It feels… silly. No matter how much they try, it’s not REAL. It’s not YOU.
Artificial Intelligence, film, oil paints — none of it can truly capture the life of a person. And yet, we keep trying…
We stare at digitized screens and beg LISA to come to life. We flip through images of her on Google and watch YouTube videos of the “Living Mona Lisa.” We look closer at her than we do at other people — real, live, breathing ones — standing next to us in the gallery.
Lisa — Florentine wife and mother — would find that utterly ridiculous. To her, life is about people — about her children, husband, friends, parents, and servants. Not about fake, digitized versions of people.
I think she would laugh at this strange image of herself, at the spectacle, and at all of us.
Now, I do hope this “Living Joconde” — this strange, breathing, blinking, frowning digital picture — inspires viewers to look again at the Mona Lisa.
I hope it sparks your interest in the REAL woman, Lisa del Giocondo — and the REAL painter who immortalized her, Leonardo da Vinci.
Let this digital version inspire you to go in search of the real thing. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.