Rauschenberg’s Mona Lisa

Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled (Mona Lisa), 1952, 9 1/2 x 7 1/2 in., collage on paper, image via RRF

Via tumblr user @poloniumtherapy comes this most Combine-ish Rauschenberg collage to predate the Combines, now titled Untitled (Mona Lisa), from 1952. It belongs to a series, North African Collages, which Rauschenberg made during his work and travel through Morocco with Cy Twombly. Most were made on shirtboards; though the size fits, this collage is on paper, not paperboard. It is not one of the 28 collages remade as enlarged facsimile prints in 1991 under the title, Shirtboards—Italy/Morocco. The Rauschenberg Foundation says 38 of these collages are known to exist. [Plus one known to be missing; in 2015 I wondered if it was underneath an early Johns.]

The putti with the surveying equipment are European. The moon jellyfish engraving is French. The gothic columns are European, and the Mona Lisa is the Mona Lisa. The strongest link to North Africa here, at least aesthetically, is the page of Arabic text collaged on the lower right corner. Its source is unidentified, but it talks about the “General Assembly” and how “tomorrow is the real opening day of the Seventh Session.” Assuming that’s the United Nations, the Seventh Session was the first one held in the UN’s new headquarters in New York. It opened on October 14, 1952, right around the time Rauschenberg and Twombly arrived in Casablanca.

Craig Starr apparently included Untitled (Mona Lisa) in a show called “Souvenirs: Cornell Duchamp Johns Rauschenberg.” But since it ran from October 2020 through March 2021, I can only take his word on it. It’s a great grouping, though. Cornell, of course, helped Duchamp fabricate the Series B of his Boîte-en-Valise, which, of course, included a Mona Lisa.