The magic of the Mona Lisa’s smile is that it seems to react to our gaze. What is she thinking? She smiles back mysteriously. Look again. Her smile seems to flicker. We glance away, and the enigmatic smile lingers in our minds, as it does in the collective mind of humanity. In no other painting are motion and emotion, the paired touchstones of Leonardo’s art, so intertwined.
The Mona Lisa’s smile came not from some divine intervention. Instead, it was the product of years of painstaking and studied human effort involving applied science as well as artistic skill. Using his technical and anatomical knowledge, Leonardo generated the optical impressions that made possible this brilliant display of virtuosity. In doing so, he showed how the most-profound examples of creativity come from embracing both the arts and the sciences.
The few public cafeterias that are left are mostly beloved, legacy restaurants like the Valois in Chicago’s Hyde Park and Sokolowski’s University Inn in Cleveland, where at this very moment there’s probably a line forming for plates of pierogies, kielbasa, and sauerkraut.
And then there’s Ikea, the Swedish-founded, Netherlands-headquartered retailer of flat-packed furniture and housewares that raked in 37.6 billion dollars in annual revenue last year. Chances are, you may be sitting in, or adjacent to, a piece of furniture you put together from a box you bought at Ikea. And in that case, you’ve probably also eaten at one of its cafeterias.
Stephen Greenblatt follows Adam and Eve through a long arc of Western history. He begins at the beginning, with paleoanthropology, then moves on to the Babylonian epics, which influenced the early chapters of Genesis, and on to a sketch of the life of St. Augustine. From there, he arrives at the Renaissance and its depictions of the first and perfect man and woman, then Milton, of course, the age of discovery and the rationalist rejection of Adamic creation, which was a rejection as well of the belief that, as St. Augustine said, “God willed to create all men out of one, in order that they might be held in their society not only by likeness of kind, but also by bond of kindred.” Europeans found that the great world teemed with people toward whom they felt little likeness and less kindred. Then Darwin emerged, upending everything all over again. And Greenblatt finally lands in his last pages at a fairly disheartening account of mating among the chimpanzees. This is the march of progress, tinged with melancholy, as always.