Cleaning Mona Lisa is a new iBooks title that shows us what great results can emerge with iBooks Author, an interesting subject, and a passionate author. Here’s a little bit of its iTunes intro:
Mona Lisa is one of the world’s most studied paintings, yet she still has secrets to reveal. Join art historian Lee Sandstead—university professor and host of Travel Channel’s Emmy nominated Art Attack—on an interactive journey into the hidden world of Renaissance and realist art. Watch engaging videos. Read interviews with prominent museum conservators. Interact with gorgeous paintings by artists such as Titian, Rembrandt, Waterhouse, and Bouguereau. All to follow Lee on his quest to understand the greatest secret of all—the craft behind the woman.
It’s great to see how excited Sandstead is about iBooks and the iPad as a medium for this type of book. I love this section of the book’s introduction:
This book is specifically designed to take advantage of Apple’s revolutionary book-formatting techniques. No longer are books confined to text and pictures – they now become worlds in which to immerse one’s self for hours, days, weeks. “All the world’s a stage,” according to Shakespeare.Now, the entire stage lies in your hands.
It’s even better to see that his book lives up to and is an excellent example of what he’s saying.
I’m interested in art and have enjoyed visits to some of the major museums in London,Paris, and Madrid – but I wouldn’t say I’ve ever been fascinated with it. This book got me fascinated quite quickly – partly because the subject itself, the art world’s dirtiest secret, is a strong one in its own right. I was also drawn in and hooked quickly because Sandstead is hugely engaging – on both his written words and the excellent video clips scattered throughout the book. To say his love of art and enthusiasm for his subject shines through would be a big understatement.
The book offers a superb overview of the origins of oil painting and many of its best early practitioners – including Leonard da Vinci. It makes great use of interactive elements all through its pages – and the slider area with multiple images showing the glazing technique used in oil painting is particularly impressive.
Then it gets straight into its main theme – the art world’s dirtiest secret is that the Mona Lisa, along with many of the world’s greatest works of art, is in rather desperate need of a bath.
Sandstead talks about his feelings of disappointment when he first got to see the Mona Lisa, and how his reaction to the works of other greats at other museums was similar – and how through years of research and understanding he came to learn of that dirty secret. The imagery in the book is striking and perfectly demonstrates how much of the true colors and impact of oil paintings can be lost when they are not properly preserved. The images and accompanying text go into great detail about the factors that affect how images look when displayed in museums, and the methods used to clean and maintain them, both good and bad.
One fact that I was shocked to learn is that Mona Lisa’s missing eyebrows are due to overzealous and damaging cleaning efforts.
There’s an interactive image that lets you tap to see areas of Mona Lisa that have been hurt by improper cleaning – including her eyebrows being removed and her hands ending up looking as if she’s wearing rubber gloves.
There are little popover Q&A sessions with a few leading painting conservators who describe their work. It’s fascinating to learn how proper restoration methods can bring back great works to their full original glory.
The book is also full of excellent examples of images that have been digitally cleaned – the before and after images of these are hugely impressive, like these of John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shallot:
Another great interactive element is a page where you can simply rub areas of an image to show the effects of digital cleaning.
The video conclusion at the end of the book offers sage advice to students and art enthusiasts – imploring them ‘Don’t’ believe it if you don’t see it’ and to put the time and effort in to truly appreciate oil painting.
There’s also a Digital Restoration Gallery at the end – a series of 20 paintings the author has digitally cleaned. Each image is shown initially in its ‘before’ state and a single tap on it reveals its appearance after digital cleaning.
It’s quite a short book but I still came away from it feeling that I gained a thorough understanding of the subject matter. And I will genuinely look at paintings in a whole different light in future museum visits. My 9 year old daughter is very interested in art and I look forward to showing her this book and giving her a great head start on understanding the dirty secret. I bet that’ll impress her art teachers.
As I mentioned right at the start, and as the author highlighted in his introduction, this book is what iBooks Author titles should be all about. It’s engaging on every level. If this is what art text books on the iPad are going to be like then color me as wishing I was back in school and taking an art class.
Cleaning Mona Lisa is available now in the iBookStore; it’s priced at $2.99.
Disclosure: I was given a pre-release complimentary copy of this iBook. For information on this site’s review policies see our About page.