Join us now for a tour of the Louvre- arguably Paris's finest repository of the arts, as we look back at City Of Death by 'David Agnew' ( actually a pseudonym for the trio of script editor Douglas Adams, whose Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy was first published in between the broadcasts of Parts Two & Three of the story, & writers David Fisher & Graham Williams). It's a vintage year, too, for we find ourselves in 1979 with the Doctor & Romana, mulling a spot of bouillabaisse before the main attraction. Strange time distortions are rapidly making themselves apparent. Just twinges, but we don't like it nonetheless. After the bouillabaisse starter it's time to wander down to the gallery for a spot of culture. An almost literal History of Art course, if you will.
If you were paying attention you'll have seen a man in the corner of the café sketching the lady companion of a tall eccentric man clad in a scarf. A closer look at the drawing would reveal that where her face should be, there's a clock face with a crack through it. A visual clue that something's very wrong with the ordinary flow of things. But who or what could be causing it?
In an impressive & no doubt expensive château, the Count Scarlioni is conducting experiments with the help of a scientific team led by Professor Kerensky. Funds are running low, though the problem is offset by Scarlioni's seemingly endless cash-flow. It is but a matter of time! For us, though, the Louvre beckons! The Count issues orders for the sale of a Thomas Gainsborough piece & a Gutenberg Bible to raise a little extra cash...
One painting in particular stands out, & it has generated much interest down the years. It's a portrait of a woman drawn by Leonardo da Vinci, thought to have been on display here since 1797. It's believed to have been completed anywhere between 1503-06- if you've not guessed what it might be, it's the Mona Lisa. As the Doctor points out, it happens to be''one of the great treasures of the universe''. But just who is the lady in the painting?
The sitter is Lisa, the wife of wealthy Italian silk magnate Francesco del Giocondo, appearing in a portrait commissioned by her husband:
"Leonardo undertook to paint, for Francesco del Giocondo, the portrait of Mona Lisa, his wife."Lets have a look at a properly artistic analysis of the piece from the Visual Arts Encyclopedia:
"The portrait shows the subject sitting upright and sideways in a chair, with her face and chest turned slightly towards the viewer: a posture derived from the 'pyramid' image used to depict a sitting Madonna. Her left arm sits comfortably on the armrest of the chair and is clasped by the hand of her right arm which crosses her front. The slightly protective position of her arms, as well as the armrest, creates a sense of distance between sitter and spectator.Looks like the Doctor made good on his promise to Romana that he'd ''show you some real paintings painted by real people.''! And what a place to do it, too. ''The Louvre. One of the greatest art galleries in the whole galaxy.''! And indeed the most-visited gallery in the world. Opened on August 10, 1793 with an exhibition numbering 537 paintings, King Francis I had by then already acquired the Mona Lisa as the heart of its collection. Following his move to Versailles in 1682 it became something of an artists' retreat. Not until October 14 1750 would it become more of a public space, King Louis XVI agreeing to a public display of 96 pieces from his royal collection- among their number works by Raphael, Titian, Van Dyck & Rembrandt.
The background landscape behind the sitter was created using aerial perspective, with its smoky blues and no clearly defined vanishing point. It gives the composition significant depth, although its details reveal a clear imbalance between the (higher) rocky horizon to the right, compared to the (lower) flatlands stretching away on the left. This imbalance adds to the slightly surreal atmosphere of the picture.
Another slightly surreal feature of the Mona Lisa is her lack of eyebrows and eyelashes. This was not a deliberate act of the artist, as scans indicate that originally she was given both. It is possible that the colour pigment used for these facial features has since faded or been inadvertently removed during cleaning.
The Mona Lisa exemplifies Leonardo's contribution to the art of oil painting, namely his mastery of sfumato. This painterly technique involves the smooth, almost imperceptible, transition from one colour to another, by means of ultra-subtle tonal gradations. Evident throughout the painting, Leonardo's use of sfumato is particularly visible in the soft contouring of Lisa Gherardini's face, around the eyes and mouth.
The general impression created by the Mona Lisa portrait is one of great serenity, enriched by a definite air of mystery. The serenity comes from the muted colour scheme, the soothing sfumato tonality, and the harmony created by the sitter's pyramid-shaped pose and understated drapery. The mystery stems from a number of factors: first, her enigmatic half-smile; second, her gaze, which is directed to the right of the viewer; her hands which have a slightly unreal, lifeless quality - almost as if they belonged to a different body.''
Back to 1979 now, though! After a scuffle during which the great man with the scarf comes away with a micromeson scanner from the wrist of an elegant woman who was also having a look at the great work, it becomes apparent someone might have been trying to steal it. The scanner was monitoring security alarms around the painting, and whoever gave it to her is undoubtedly alien!
What the Doctor & Romana don't yet know is that the woman is Scarlioni's wife, the Countess! She'll get rather a big surprise regarding her husband later, too. As they find their way to another café, our artistically cultured time travellers quickly discover they've been followed!
"That idiot with the gun" is Duggan, a private detective. Before long he finds himself alongside his intended quarry as prisoners back at Scarlioni's château. As he removes his mask we learn that he's the last of the Jagaroth! The discovery of a cupboard full of Mona Lisas later on deepens the intrigue. Were they all painted by Da Vinci himself?
The Doctor must go back to a time when the painting was still incomplete, allowing him to muse on the genius of a man he considers a friend:
"Leonardo? Leonardo? Ah, that Renaissance sunshine. Leonardo? The paintings went down very well. Everybody loved them. Last Supper, Mona Lisa. You remember the Mona Lisa? That dreadful woman with no eyebrows who wouldn't sit still, eh? Your idea for the helicopter took a bit longer to catch on, but as I say, these things take time."The Doctor's note to Da Vinci in ' mirror writing' is a reference to Leonardo's own practise of doing so in the hope that his ideas could not be read/stolen by others.
Sadly old Leo isn't about for a catch-up over a glass or two of fine Italian wine, as he's caught up in important work for Captain Tancredi ( a splinter of Scaroth's, created as he was spread throughout the course of time). Presumably painting the multiple copies of the Mona Lisa which will be sold to collectors in the future to finance time travel incursions! A simple solution is found to make clear just which of the multiple works are copies next to the original- '' THIS IS A FAKE'' written in marker pen on the canvases of the still- developing works.