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If the Mona Lisa didn't exist, what would the default Greatest Painting be?

Gromit

International Man of Misery
The Mona Lisa is often used as a sort of metonym or shorthand for art (that is Western art) in general. A bit like in the way that Beethoven's Fifth is shorthand for classical music, or Hamlet for English literature. I was idly wondering what other painting might have fulfilled this role if the Mona Lisa simply ceased to exist. Is there a widely acknowledged Second Greatest Painting in the world? (Whether or not you personally think the Mona Lisa is actually The Greatest Painting In The World is of course beside the point.)
By greatest all you really mean is most famous...

Second most famous would be Van Go's Sunflowers but as he did several the fame is split.

Which leaves Rembrandt's Night Watch.

None of which are truly the greatest.
 

littlebabyjesus

one of Maxwell's demons
I'm sure Leonardo is extremely well-known, but I'd guess that the Mona Lisa is better-known, that there are people who know the painting but not the artist.

Not sure that's true about van Gogh, but it would be true about Vermeer or Munch. The Scream is a good shout. Definitely passes butchers' Simpsons test.

Does anyone know how long the Mona Lisa has been the most famous painting in the world?
 

Mrs Miggins

There's been a slight cheese accident
If we're being serious about this, it would have to be something equally old and most likely also from the Italian Renaissance. Something that has been revered for a long time. I seem to remember from the few art history classes I've taken that at some point (Victorians?) it was decided that this era was the pinnacle of human creation. (Help me people with more knowledge!).

So I think dessiato is probably on to something with the Birth of Venus. I have an issue with that as being the world's greatest (by which I think we mean most popular) painting though as it's a bit old and not as naturalistic as later painting for many people's taste. It requires some knowledge of the subject matter to understand what it's about rather than the simple impact of a portrait. Girl with a Pearl Earring is definitely a contender although I'm not sure the Dutch masters received quite the same level of reverence as the Italians when all this revering was going on.

Or we could just carry on posting our favourite paintings which is fine by me :)
 

SheilaNaGig

Struggling and striving
Enforced Holiday
If we’re thinking if something that would take the place of the Mona Lisa, it would have to hit all the same notes in terms of when and how it would have been shown and indicated over the same time span. So yes, in the Simpsons but also in schools and on posters and postcards. Easily recogniseable in term states of shape, outline, so easy to parody and copy too.

So I think it would have to show a human full face, probably a woman, not a nude (otherwise the Birth of Venus would probably be the Greatest Painting In The World anyway). And probably not a religious painting either, otherwise it already would be a Madonna or a Pieta or something Jesus-y.

Girl with Pearl Earring hits all those targets.


ETA And something that someone wanted to steal so it could become so famous. So not enormous.
 

dessiato

Proudly European.
If we’re thinking if something that would take the place of the Mona Lisa, it would have to hit all the same notes in terms of when and how it would have been shown and indicated over the same time span. So yes, in the Simpsons but also in schools and on posters and postcards. Easily recogniseable in term states of shape, outline, so easy to parody and copy too.

So I think it would have to show a human full face, probably a woman, not a nude (otherwise the Birth of Venus would probably be the Greatest Painting In The World anyway). And probably not a religious painting either, otherwise it already would be a Madonna or a Pieta or something Jesus-y.

Girl with Pearl Earring hits all those targets.


ETA And something that someone wanted to steal so it could become so famous. So not enormous.
The Athena tennis girl poster fits a lot of those criteria.
 

SheilaNaGig

Struggling and striving
Enforced Holiday
If we’re thinking if something that would take the place of the Mona Lisa, it would have to hit all the same notes in terms of when and how it would have been shown and indicated over the same time span. So yes, in the Simpsons but also in schools and on posters and postcards. Easily recogniseable in term states of shape, outline, so easy to parody and copy too.

So I think it would have to show a human full face, probably a woman, not a nude (otherwise the Birth of Venus would probably be the Greatest Painting In The World anyway). And probably not a religious painting either, otherwise it already would be a Madonna or a Pieta or something Jesus-y.

Girl with Pearl Earring hits all those targets.


ETA And something that someone wanted to steal so it could become so famous. So not enormous.

Lady with an Ermine probably hits most of these targets.
 

mrsfran

Slightly less bulbous
I think you'd have to go with Starry Night, Waterlillies, Birth of Venus or Girl with a Pearl Earring. I'd like the Arnolfini Portrait in there too, but perhaps that's not well-known enough.

The Last Supper too. Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte?
 

Mrs Miggins

There's been a slight cheese accident
If we’re thinking if something that would take the place of the Mona Lisa, it would have to hit all the same notes in terms of when and how it would have been shown and indicated over the same time span. So yes, in the Simpsons but also in schools and on posters and postcards. Easily recogniseable in term states of shape, outline, so easy to parody and copy too.

So I think it would have to show a human full face, probably a woman, not a nude (otherwise the Birth of Venus would probably be the Greatest Painting In The World anyway). And probably not a religious painting either, otherwise it already would be a Madonna or a Pieta or something Jesus-y.

Girl with Pearl Earring hits all those targets.


ETA And something that someone wanted to steal so it could become so famous. So not enormous.
My first choice above is almost the anti-greatest by those criteria :D
 
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