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Beyond the Mona Lisa

Seeing the Mona Lisa isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I know, I know; Leonardo da Vinci was one of the greatest artists of all time, and everyone wants to see his work in person.

Photo by Pixabay

But imagine this:

You’re traveling to Europe for the first time, and you want to see some cool art. You don’t know much about art, but you have heard of the Mona Lisa. So, you plan to spend a day or two in Paris to visit the Louvre.

The day finally comes, and you take your time getting to the museum. You walk into the Louvre sometime in the afternoon, and it’s packed. There are hundreds of people stuffed into a hallway, shoulder to shoulder, all shoving forward, wanting a chance to see da Vinci’s great work.

Finally, it’s your turn. You get up to the front, and you try to get a good look, but it’s fifteen feet away and way smaller than you thought it was. As you strain your eyes, trying to admire the brushwork, a guard yells at you, saying you can take only one picture and then move on. You frantically pull out your phone to snap a blurry picture before you are shuffled out of the room.

Unfortunately, this is the reality for many Louvre-goers. For art lovers and novices alike, the experience can be frustrating, and as sad as it is, it can make the Mona Lisa underwhelming at best.

But your trip doesn’t have to be like this. There is so much more art to explore. So instead of fighting to see the Mona Lisa, consider visiting one of these museums instead.

Kunsthaus Zürich

Kunsthaus Zürich is the biggest art museum in Switzerland and home to some of the greatest modern and postmodern art.

Not sure what that means? Modern and postmodern artists threw out traditional art styles to experiment with new ideas and techniques, making us question what is considered “art.”

You know that picture of Mona Lisa with a mustache drawn on? Believe it or not, that picture is considered a valuable piece of art.

It is unexpected and unrefined, yet profound. This is the kind of art you can expect to see at Kunsthaus Zürich.

Of course, this museum also houses plenty of the old masters’ paintings, like Rembrandt van Rijn’s Der Apostel Simon and Jacob van Ruisdael’s View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds; so, it appeals to fans of all art styles.

But if you like provocative art that pushes boundaries, Kunsthaus is a must-see.

The Musée de l’Orangerie

If you like the idea of modern art but think a mustachioed Mona Lisa is a mockery of real talent, perhaps the Musée de l’Orangerie is more your style.

This museum houses magnificent paintings that paved the way for modern art, with its main attraction being Claude Monet’s Water Lilies series.

Monet was a pioneer of modern art as a leader of the impressionist movement. Re-envisioning what art can do beyond lifelike representations, Monet and the other impressionists were obsessed with capturing the feeling of a scene.

Monet spent nearly thirty years painting the lily pond in his backyard because there was always a new way to look at it. And now you can see the series on full panoramic display in the Musée de l’Orangerie.

The best part? Unlike the Mona Lisa, you can get up close and personal with the paintings and see the beautiful details of each brushstroke.

Museum of Bargello

If venturing into modern art is a little out of your comfort zone, you can find works by the old Renaissance masters all over Europe, not just in the Louvre!

If you travel to Florence, Italy, and visit the Museum of Bargello, you can see sculptures made by da Vinci’s predecessors and contemporaries, including many works by the other Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, Donatello, like his bronze David and marble Saint George.

In addition to Donatello’s masterpieces, the Museum of Bargello is also home to the two surviving panels from the great Florence Baptistery doors competition. In 1401, the city of Florence held a contest to decide who would design the new bronze doors for the Baptistery, and two of the most prestigious sculptors at the turn of the century, Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi, were the finalists.

You can see each of their panels, both depicting the sacrifice of Isaac from the Bible. While Ghiberti won by a narrow margin, once you’ve had a chance to see them in person, you can decide which you think was best.

Czartoryski Museum

Now, if you have your heart set on seeing some of da Vinci’s works, I have some bad news for you. Even though he’s widely recognized as one of the best painters of all time, he didn’t actually paint very many pieces.

So, if you’re a die-hard da Vinci fan, you’ll have to visit the Louvre sometime because five of his twenty paintings live there. And of those twenty paintings, only seven of them are considered “undoubtedly his.”

Of course, you can always travel to Milan to see The Last Supper in the Santa Maria delle Grazie refectory. And you’ll probably want to sooner rather than later as the painting continues to deteriorate.

But you can see another of his paintings, Lady with an Ermine, at the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow, Poland.

While this painting does attract a lot of visitors, the Czartoryski Museum is much less crowded than the Louvre because it limits how many patrons are allowed in at any given time. Meaning, you’d be able to see da Vinci’s work up close without all the shoving.

Art Travels

I’ve just barely scratched the surface of the centuries of artistic masterpieces around the world, but I hope it gave you a taste of the art that actually appeals to you.

Some of us are more drawn to the serenity of impressionism while others enjoy the humor and social commentaries of postmodernism. The trick is finding those styles and those pieces that really speak to you so that when you plan your next trip, you can let your new love of art guide you.