CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 18 . . . .May 13, 2005
This opening line draws the reader into an intriguing true-life adventure involving perhaps the most famous painting of all time: Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. The story, told in the first person by the painting it/herself, is a fictitious elaboration on a series of actual events which began on August 21, 1911. Motivated at least in part by patriotism, Vincenzo Perugia, an Italian museum worker at the Louvre, steals the Mona Lisa and, after hiding her in Paris for some time, transports her by car through the countryside and eventually takes her to Florence, her birthplace. Before she is finally returned to the Louvre, the painting and Vincenzo experience a number of adventures, and the painting herself, like royalty temporarily liberated from official duties, reveals to us her varied and sometimes ambivalent responses to this unexpected freedom.
The Mona Lisa Caper is the creation of the Toronto-based husband-and-wife team of Rick Jacobson and Laura Fernandez (see Picasso for another very successful example of their collaboration). Jacobson is the writer, and Jacobson and Fernandez together have produced the lovely watercolour illustrations. The story is told in a very accessible, conversational style, and includes first-person insights into events which create empathy for the painting. As readers, we identify with the Mona Lisa's loneliness, her anxiety, her happiness, her confusion, and, finally, her relief and resignation.
The illustrations are done in beautifully subtle, washy watercolours, often in blue-violet tones, with key elements in the pictures providing warm-coloured accents. For example, the repeated image of the stolen painting partially hidden in a warm red cloth acts as a visual motif which runs across many pages and helps to unify the book. There is just the right amount of detail included in each of the illustrations—in architecture, vegetation, clothing, cars—to give a sense of time and place but, happily, much is also left to the imagination. The layout of pages in the book varies. Some illustrations focus on panoramas of cityscapes or countrysides, but each double page spread also includes a scattering of smaller details and close-ups: of individual people, facial expressions, and significant objects.
At the end of the book, a couple of useful features highlight some of the facts underlying the story of The Mona Lisa Caper. One section tells us about the creation of the painting, itself, and includes a fine full-page reproduction of the actual work. Another, entitled "The Men Who Loved Her," describes three men famously linked to the Mona Lisa: Leonardo da Vinci, Francois I of France (the first owner) and, of course, Vincenzo Perugia.
Middle years students, as well as teachers and parents of middle years students, would be attracted to this book for a number of reasons. First of all, the book is beautiful! Second, it offers an opportunity for middle years readers, and the adults around them, to discuss some of the important ethical questions raised by the book. (Why did Vincenzo kidnap the Mona Lisa? Is it ever alright to commit a crime?) Finally, The Mona Lisa Caper provides a perfect opportunity to introduce young readers to art history and the real-life adventures of one painting in particular. In fact, this book encourages the reader to begin to imagine the "secret lives" of other paintings!
Ann Stinner is a former art education instructor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.