Hi all,

Just wanted to send word that I have done a fair bit of research, both of the Leonardo literature and in direct conversation with several Mona Lisa experts, and found that what I'm now calling "the Mona Lisa Bridge-Garment-Experience Hypothesis" is indeed new.  

I found one reference in the Leonardo da Vinci Society Newsletter, no. 39, 2012, p. 9, of a talk by Robert Zwijnenberg of Leiden University, in which he proposes that the bridge is "a carbuncle" on the face of the painting, meant to bring our attention from the landscape (macrocosm) to the sitter (microcosm).  It makes no mention of the garment or anything further.  I have found no other discussion of the bridge (aside from Starnazzi's speculation that it depicts an actual bridge at the Arno-Chiana confluence); and I have been informed by one of the top Leonardo experts at Oxford that there is no other bridge scholarship that he is aware of.  I have found limited discussion of the garment, mainly as an expression of the standard norms for modesty and virtue of its day, but none linking the garment to the bridge.  

One renowned expert to whom I mentioned the BGE hypothesis was very insulting and angry, while also asking for my exact page citations from Leonardo's Notebooks and other sources.  I found this combination of hostility and inquisition to be disappointing, and am going to publish something as soon as possible to delineate the provenance of the hypothesis.

I also wanted to mention the original context of my posting of this idea to Netbehavior on 18 November 2019, under the rubric "The Work of Art in the Age of Network Reproduction: A Question About the Mona Lisa."  The question was, basically, "what do you think of the B-G-E hypothesis?"  

The Network Reproduction idea relates I think to Cassie Thornton's Hologram project.  What does it mean when the work of art is itself a network?  How do we understand, and perhaps more importantly, enact the aesthetic and social implications of such an  atmosphere?  It is important that Hologram incorporates non-academic participatory elements as well as a health care focus.  Too much of the art and science of networks, both theory and practice, of the last forty years has focused on a hyper-topian (to coin a phrase, though not in the sense used by Casetti) view of information technology, which while certainly novel and market-fluent is far too narrow.  This might be best re-understood post Covid-19 as something of a "wrong turn" or cul-de-sac.  No big deal per se, but something to think about and perhaps reappraise.  

Networks have been around since before DNA, and to think that "networks = computer networks" is an understandable but not inconsequential, and potentially myopic, oversimplification we might do well to set aside.  

Very best regards,



"Robert Zwijnenberg (University ofLeiden) spoke on ‘Walls and Bridges’. A crucialissue is how we relate to historical (as opposed tocontemporary) painting, for which knowledge ofthe artist and his intentions is inevitably lacking.A work of art has a special visual presence: itcaptivates through its visuality; it is a work of artbecause of the aesthetic experience that itprompts. Most art historians strive for objectivity,refusing to acknowledge their engagement withthe work of art, or the role of their personalexperience; but the approach to a work of artdepends of the self-reflective capacity of thehistorian. Zwijnenberg admits to feeling uneasybefore the
 Mona Lisa
, feeling that something isnot right: the bridge in the right landscape, which‘is a carbuncle disfiguring the painting’. Thelandscape is connected with the sitter only by thebridge; there is no other sign of human activity.
Mona Lisa is a microcosm within the macrocosmof the landscape; the bridge ‘bridges’ themicrocosm and the macrocosm; it is a meta-pictorial element within a hostile landscape. Thebridge derails the universality of the landscape,which is no longer self-contained, no longer hasautonomy and trans-historical validity. In the
 Madonna and Child with St Anne
, on the otherhand, there is strict distinction between theforeground and the background landscape, whichis remote and unattainable. Its palette is distinct;there is no human activity; it is a wasteland ofnature untamed, a challenge to humankind withinthe reassuring context of Christian iconography.Here we experience what it truly means torespond to a painting, a trans-historical image."
[copy/paste errors left in for typographical effect - MH]