Comments Off on Smiles

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Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa displays the most beguiling smile in the history of painting. 
For that matter, hers may be the most famous smile in human history.  Period.
Mysteries abound.  No one knows with certainty the identity of the young Italian woman who sat for Leonardo sometime between 1503 and 1506.  Nor can anyone explain the effect that she has had on so many art lovers, critics, and other admirers.  Leonardo himself was profoundly reluctant to part with her, which is why for a number of years he unfailingly carried his favorite painting with him.
At various times she adorned the bedroom walls of both the French King Louis XIV and the Emperor Napoleon. 
Andy Warhol silkscreened her face, turning her into a pop culture icon like Marilyn Monroe.  Nat King Cole, Elton John, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Britney Spears, and hip hop artist Slick Rick have all sung about her.  Star Trek, Dr. Who, Ray Bradbury, and Dan Brown of The Da Vinci Code have all fixated on her.  Julia Roberts starred in a movie called Mona Lisa Smile.  Even The Simpsons reduced her to a characterization called Moanin’ Lisa.
“Yet,” as historian R.A. Scotti puts it in Vanished Smile, her biography of the painting, “her mystery persists.” 
What exactly does her smile mean?
Scotti acknowledges those who believe that Mona Lisa’s smile is one of “sweet perfidy, androgynous beauty,” or “desperate hope.  It has been called a deceitful mask, a veiled threat, and the smirk of a woman who has just dined off her husband.”  Yikes. 
Or, she suggests, it could simply be that because dentistry hadn’t come very far in the 16th century, it was wise to sit for portraits while keeping one’s mouth shut.
A pair of researchers in Holland recently studied her smile with an emotion recognition software program.  The face-tracking technology read Mona Lisa’s expression as 83% happy, 9% disgusted, 6% fearful, 2% angry, and less than 1% neutral. 
Not that anyone is over-analyzing this.
Neurologists have pointed out that her smile results from the response of cranial nerve number seven, which controls the facial muscles.  According to studies by a Harvard prof, her smile appears or disappears depending on whether we gaze at her peripherally or directly.
Scotti writes: “The more that is said about her, the less seems certain.  Every fresh study provokes more conjecture.  She is reduced by one study to a mathematical equation.”  Believe it or not, there have been formal studies connecting Leonardo’s painting to the significance of the number pi.  Some even think her image hides the secret of the pyramids in Giza (which Leonardo somehow knew).  Others believe she is actually a self-portrait of the artist in drag.
“No wonder she is inscrutable,” Scotti concludes.
Over the years she has been splashed with acid, struck by a rock and a teacup, assaulted by tunneling insects, and even stolen right off the wall of the Louvre in 1911.  More than two years later she was recovered, but exactly how and why she was stolen has never been satisfactorily explained.
France currently has a law forbidding Mona Lisa to leave the country.  Her specially designed display room in the Louvre (which is essentially a bunker) cost $6.2 million to build.  Personal bodyguards protect her.  The Louvre’s post office receives numerous letters addressed only to her.  Climatic conditions behind her non-reflective, bullet-proof glass are constantly monitored and maintained at exactly 55 degrees Fahrenheit and 50% humidity. 
Through it all she just keeps on smiling.  Which prompts an intriguing question: Does the Bible have anything to say about smiles?
Interestingly, the words “smile” and “smiling” never appear on the pages of Scripture. 
But there’s plenty in both Old and New Testaments about joy and laughter and celebrating, which we may assume were routinely accompanied by an abundance of smiles.   
Here’s how God instructed Aaron the high priest to bless the Israelites: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).
There was no greater honor in the ancient world than to see the face of the king.  And if the king “made his face shine upon you” – or as we might put it, “looked at you with glowing affection” – it’s impossible not to imagine smiles on the faces of both the one who is doing the blessing and the one who is blessed.
What is God thinking about his people right now? 
No emotion recognition software is required. 
To be blessed by God is to know that God will be smiling on us every hour of this day.