Study Page: Mona Lisa in Book Cover Art

Comments and notes: The cover art chosen to illustrate this "study page" demonstrates the variety of contexts and uses to which the image of the Mona Lisa has been applied. Note that the book covers selected specifically omit examples in which the Mona Lisa has been used on books about the Mona Lisa itself or about Leonardo.
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fig. 39a
The Junior League of
Wichita, Inc.,
Women of Great Taste,
Wichita, KS, 1995
Illus. Sonia Greteman
Gift of Christine L. Sundt
Wichita Cookbook In figure 39a The Mona Lisa is used to signify "a woman of great taste" a pun put into service for a cookbook, playing on the assumption that there is an association between great art and fine appreciation (i.e. "great taste"). In this case one naturally wonders whether the authors intended to refer to poor Charlie the Tuna's confusion between having good taste and tasting good. Never mind that cooking is no longer synonymous with "women's work."
fig. 39b
My Favorite Masterpieces

("Cards for Kids to color")
ŠPigment & Hue, Inc.
(800) 850-8221
My Favorite Masterpieces Figure 39b has been discussed in the text of this paper (Text). It demonstrates one way by which the image of the Mona Lisa is instilled into young minds as a fundamental and representative example of important fine art.
fig. 39c
Gary Larson.
Cover from
The Far Side Gallery 3,
Andrews and McMeel,
Kansas City 1988
Gary Larson - Far Side 3 Gary Larson's cover (fig. 39c) from one of his "Far Side" collections, has also been discussed in the text of this paper. It is presented here to demonstrate that the configuration of the image of the Mona Lisa is so universal that book cover artists have no hesitation in using it in parody to communicate to a large audience.
fig. 39d
Thomas Hoving.
Art for Dummies,

Hungry Minds, Inc;September 1999
ISBN: 0764551043
Thomas Hoving - For Dummies The artwork advertising Thomas Hoving's guide to art history (fig. 39d) , strictly, is not a book cover; but, I've included it here because it serves as a surrogate book cover in its function to advertise a book that presents an art history crafted for a popular (and assumedly) hostile audience. It is written by a former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) . The image of the Mona Lisa, no doubt was chosen here because it was thought able to convey a universally recognizable image to this proposed audience. Note how the illustration has been altered better to fit the publisher's color scheme. (The tear painted on the postcard advertisement was added manually as a comment by the person who sent me the image.) (See further.)
fig. 39e
Rick Steves & Gene
Openshaw. Mona Winks: Self-Guided Tours of
Europe's Top Museums,

John Muir, Santa Fe, 1998
Gift of Carl & Carol Selkin
Mona Winks Museum Guide Mona Winks (fig 39e), a somewhat irreverent and populist guide to Europe's museums and art districts, takes as its cover a literary image the authors fashion for their description of the Mona Lisa. They say (p. 108) "Mona doesn't knock your socks off, but she winks at the patient viewer." By this they mean that if the viewer puts some work into the project of understanding this painting, the reward for doing so will be worthwhile. This is a fitting cover primarily because 1) the theme of the volume is just that: rewards will come to those who go to the effort to extend themselves, and 2) a winking Mona is enough of a curiosity to bring readers to its pages.
fig. 39f
Monica Lewinsky
as the Mona Lisa
Front cover of
The New Yorker Magazine,
February 8, 1999.
New Yorker Woman of the
Year, art by Dean Roher. .
Monica Lewinsky as Mona Lisa - New Yorker Magazine The famous cover of New Yorker Magazine depicting Monica Lewinsky as the Mona Lisa (fig. 39f) has been discussed above. This clever and attractive image plays on multiple characteristics of its subject: Monica was known among friends as "Mona," The images of her in the popular press emphasized her mouth and smile (with appropriate innuendo), and in both Monica and Mona there flies the uncertainty of the nature of her relationship with a great celebrity. In most of the cover-art on this page, communication depends on the instant recognition of the underlying image as much as it does on the surprise encountered when the differences are noted.
fig. 39g
Nancy Frazier
The Penguin Concise
Dictionary of Art History

Viking Pr; January 2000
ISBN: 0670100153
Cover Art by Robert Silvers
Cover using Robert Silvers' Photomosaic The cover of Nancy Frazier's Concise Dictionary of Art History (fig. 39f) is derived from one of Robert Silver's "photomosaic" images. (See Aptly, for this volume, the image of the Mona Lisa on the cover is built up from hundreds of separate images of works of art.
fig. 39h
Stephen Fishman.
The Public Domain: How to Find
& Use Copyright-Free Writings,
Music, Art & More.

NOLO Press, Berkeley, 2000
Gift of the Author
Mona as symbol of the Public Domain This book cover for a guide to using the "public domain" contains a small image of the Mona Lisa to the left of the horizontal band of images at the cover's center. It is included in this collection because before all others, the image of the Mona Lisa is used to signify works of art that are no longer protected by copyright. The ubiquity of the Mona Lisa as a symbol of the "Public Domain" compares to the use of "John Doe" to stand for an unidentified person. (See further.)
Mary Lynn Kotz
Art and Life

Harry N Abrams; May 1991
ISBN: 0810937522
Robert Rauschenberg - Mona Lisa on Monograph This monograph on Robert Rauschenberg uses as its cover art one of the artist's appropriations of the Mona Lisa. Whether it is a classical work of fine art or an ordinary, everyday image, Rauschenberg reinterprets and injects a vital presence into what might otherwise have been taken for granted and overlooked. To select one of his Mona Lisa images for a book cover acknowledges both the traditional use of the Mona Lisa as a traditional centerpiece for artistic accomplishment and the primacy of Mona's image in daily life.
fig. 39j
Scientific American

April, 1995.
"Virtual museum of digitized art
exists only inside a computer."
Scientific American Cover The April 1995 issue of Scientific American highlights a number of articles about the use of computers to help understand works of art, including an article by Lillian Stewartz ("The Art Historian's Computer," p. 106) in which she argues that the Mona Lisa is a disguised self-portrait of Leonardo, himself (see here) and an article on the use of computers to aid the restoration of damaged and soiled works. The "Virtual museum" illustrated on the cover is not discussed, but it is interesting to note that the cover-artist paid no heed to a work's size, its relative scale within the "virtual" museum, or its stylistic grouping -- an inadvertent reminder of the ability of the computer to distort as well as convey the historical record.
fig. 39k
Mary Settegast
Mona Lisa's Moustache
Making sense of a disolving world
Cloth, ISBN 1-890482-90-0, 176 pages, $27.00
Published by Phanes Press
12/01: Available from (From the book flap:)
"In the eighty years since Marcel Duchamp drew a moustache on a copy of the Mona Lisa, the dissolving of cultural forms has intensified to the point that there is no longer an absolute, a “proper” form, anywhere. This generalized breakdown is evident in social and moral codes, in gender distinctions and personal relationships, in politics and economics, in literature, music, dance, painting, and architecture, in our concepts of reality itself. "
RAB: By alluding to Duchamp's disfigurement of the Mona Lisa, this cover signifies the way our culture has transformed a venerable icon of the past into a symbol of modern society.



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