Selling the Mona Lisa

A few months ago I went to Paris for work. I had hoped to see the Mona Lisa in the Louvre after i had finished but it was a Tuesday and everything is closed in Paris on a Tuesday,no one told me that.  I came home with only a blurry picture of the Eifell tower as a souvenir.

blurry Eiffel tower
Eiffel Tower, told you it was blurry

Oddly I know exactly what the Mona Lisa looks like having seen many pictures of it in books when I was younger and now on the internet.  This has left me wondering what exactly are those reproductions that we see on the internet. Is it the Mona Lisa or is it something else? Can I have an opinion on that famous smile or thoughts about Da Vinci's genius of being a master of both art and engineering without ever actually seeing the original?

To help me try and understand what digital images are i decided to see what would happed if I base64 encode the Mona Lisa and other images of artworks.

If you are not familiar with it base64 encoding is a method of representing digital data for when it needs to be transmitted over a medium that only supports sending textual data. If want to know more have a look at the Base64 Wikipedia page

I wrote a short Python script to convert a binary file to a based64 encoded text file.  Opening this text file in a text editor was odd.  The data wasn't recognisable as the original Mona Lisa in any way. There is no way of telling what parts are the background or the different colours that are present.

Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa image file  I  used was taken from Wiki Media commons and according to Wikimedia the image is in the public domain so I could use it without fear of anyone demanding money for its use.  That doesn't go for all images of the Mona Lisa.  Corbis a company owned by Bill Gates sell licenses to images of the Mona Lisa.  Is there's a better image of the Mona Lisa because its the official licensed version.  Would I get more please or a better understanding of the work if I looked at the Corbis image over the Wikimedia Image?

Girl with a Peal Earring



As well as Base64 encoding a mona Lisa image I did the same with The Girl with a Pearl Earring and Sunflowers  Both of these I used the smallest image size that was available.  For sunflowers I decided to make it smaller still. When I base64 Encoded that tiny picture which became pixelated and distorted when zooming into it there was a odd string of text in roughly the centre of the file




Not sure if that has any meaning or if its just a strange human thing that we give meaning to something without any meaning, after all that string represents some digital data.


To complete this exercise I decided I would take these text files and create digital images from them and put them up for sale.  Maybe in a few years time these images are what robots will hang on their walls of the homes.

The images are available from Redbubble as everything from a hoodies to iPhone covers.  Not sure Van Gogh,Vermeer and Da Vinci would ever have imagined that their paintings would be transformed into a series of  text characters adorning mugs and iPad covers when they painted them.

Red bubble

I'm not quite sure If i've satisfied my own curiosity about what these images actually mean, if anything i'm even more intrigued now

I'll put the Python script and Base64 Encoded text files on to git hub later on for anyone interested


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