Life of a Masterpiece

Who Stole Mona Lisa?
By Ruthie Knapp
Illustrated by Jill McElmurry
(Bloomsbury,New York, 2010, $17.99)

A work of art’s history blends several narratives. First, there is the story of its creator, then, the tale behind the work’s conception. If the piece achieves popularity or critical acclaim, it will outlive the artist and touch other people, who, in turn, become part of the work-in-progress. In Who Stole Mona Lisa?, Ruthie Knapp introduces readers to the world’s most famous painting and some of the people who have sought to possess her.

Knapp and illustrator Jill McElmurry transport readers from the Louvre, Mona’s present home, to sixteenth-century Italy, where Leonardo DaVinci first painted the young woman with the enigmatic smile. During the journey, they meet the kings, emperors, and thieves who succumbed to her charms. At times, Mona Lisa herself narrates; occasionally, a museum guide lectures about the painting’s power.

Mona Lisa’s distinct voice and McElmurry’s whimsical illustrations add both humor and pathos to the painting’s biography. In a touch reminiscent of JK Rowling, Mona Lisa looks bored and annoyed in the clutches of an art theief and jubilant when she returns to her rightful place in the museum. Art, Knapp and McElmurry suggest, has a life of its own. It is not a commodity to be possessed, but a reality to be experienced.

Dorothy A. Dahm

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