Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Mona Lisa and the Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, 2012

The Mona Lisa, or La Giaconda, is probably one of the most famous paintings in the world. It was begun around the year 1503, and was finished by Leonardo Da Vinci in France shortly before his death on May 2nd, 1519. It has stayed in France, mostly, for these past 490 years. After the French Revolution, it was moved to the Louvre. It was exhibited in Italy for a while after an Italian Patriot stole it, as he felt it should stay in Italy.

In a book by Jean-Pierre Mohen, Mona Lisa: inside the Painting, one can read that all through its history, the Mona Lisa has received exceptional and restrained care. An international commission in 1952 deemed that the care it has received has helped to conserve one of the most famous paintings in the world. This commission recommended that it be restored to remove some layers of varnish, and for some special treatment. It has also been treated with carbon tetrachloride, and later with an ethylene oxide treatment to preserve the painting from an insect infestation. In 1985, the painting was again treated with carbon tetrachloride as a measure to prevent further insect damage. To help with any warping, a crosspiece was installed in 1977.

In 2005, it was moved to a purpose-built, climate-controlled enclosure behind bullet-proof glass in the Salle des √Čtats in the Louvre.
Despite all of this work, and experts from around the world, the Mona Lisa will need further work in the next 15 years to fix cracking in the varnish that had been applied in the past century. Without this fixing of the varnish and further preservation, the Mona Lisa could face irreparable damage in the next few decades.

In December of 1531, 12 years after the Mona Lisa was finished, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Juan Diego in present day Mexico City. She left her image to us, and she is known under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is contemporaneous with the Mona Lisa.
The image of Guadalupe is on a Tilma, an outer garment that was worn by Aztec males, like a cloak, with a long front to it like an apron, and used as a carry all. At the time, and as is the case with the Tilma of St. Juan Diego, it is made of the ayate fibers of the Maguey plant. The normal life span of such a garment is around 20 years. As of 2009, it has been 479 years since the Blessed Virgin Mary of Guadalupe appeared in 1531.
For roughly the first 160 years, the Tilma of St. Juan Diego hung in damp air and before the emissions of numerous candles in the Chapel of Tepeyac. There was no glass to cover the image. No soot appears to have ever damaged the Tilma. Dr. Phillip Callahan of the University of Florida studied the image in 1979. He records that a single votive candle can put out in its life over 600 microwatts of ultraviolet light. If you multiply this over hundreds of thousands of candles over centuries, and it is an intolerable environment for a painting. That much ultraviolet light should destroy any painting. It is not a painting though, at least by human hands. Numerous people also touched the image.
In 1791, roughly when the French Revolution happened and the Mona Lisa was moved to the Louvre, the Gold and Silver Frame around the Image of Guadalupe was being cleaned. The image was miraculously preserved when Nitric Acid used to clean the Gold and Silver spilled onto the image. The only trace of this disaster is what appears to be a watermark.
The image is 479 years old, yet the image cannot be reproduced. The colours are as vibrant today as 79 years ago, as vibrant as they were 479 years ago. The fibers of the Tilma are as pliable now as a new Tilma, despite its age.

On Monday the 14th of November 1921, in the midst of Government Anti-Catholic activity, Mass was being said in the Basilica of Guadalupe. at 10:30 AM a bomb, placed by a Mexican government agent, Luciano Perez, went off right below the Image of Guadalupe. The bomb had been hidden in a wreath of flowers, and heavily damaged a nearby Altar, and much of the surrounding masonry.

A Bronze and Iron Cross right underneath the Image was bent over by the explosion, so powerful was the blast, as can be seen above. The image of Guadalupe was untouched, with even the thin glass that was in front of the image undamaged. Miraculously, none of the faithful who were present at the Mass were injured either. As a side note, After having ascertained that everyone was alright, Father Juan Bautista Rangel Avila had a Server summon the police, and then continued to say Holy Mass.
This is just a brief, very brief history of the Mona Lisa, and the Image of Guadalupe. They are both roughly the same age. One is one of the most famous paintings in the world, having received the attention of the world's Art experts, and roughly 20 million dollars worth of restoration.
The other, we Catholics hold to be the image of Our Blessed Lady, is an image that is on Ayate fibers from the Maguey plant. The Tilma should have disintegrated about 460 years ago, had been exposed to the Salt Marshes of Mexico City, had countless people touch it, was exposed for 160 years without protection, had acid spilled on it, and survived a Terrorist Bomb.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful article, thank you Juan!!!

    Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

    Tim Hogan