11 Aug, 2009

Mona Lisa is mugged

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Leonardo’s painting has been attacked with a teacup – is it time for the museum to change how it displays its most valuable art?

I’ve always thought the Louvre museum has been too soft on those visitors who only come to see the Mona Lisa. It timidly allows the crassest values to prevail in front of this wondrous work of art, even letting people take flash photographs that blind the onlooker to its merits, catering to people who just come to say they were there. And yet, cameras are one thing – but cups of tea?

On Sunday – reports are just emerging – a Russian visitor bought either a cup of English breakfast tea or a souvenir mug (articles differ) in the museum and proceeded to fling it at the painting. The Mona Lisa was completely undamaged because it is isolated in a vitrine designed to resist gunfire, let alone a ceramic cup, and as security men wrestled the attacker to the ground, Lisa smiled on.

No harm done – but surely this is a moment for the Louvre to reconsider the way it displays its ultimate attraction? The quickest route to the painting from the nearest museum cafe or shop would lead down galleries hung with masterpieces. Leonardo’s painting is protected – but the works around it are not. The assailant, reportedly upset at being denied French nationality, could easily have decided to vandalise one of those instead.

The truth is that the Louvre needs to consider moving the Mona Lisa to its own gallery, at a safe distance from other works. There could even be a separate charge for visitors who wanted to see only that one work. Security could be maximised and viewing conditions made as decent as possible – ideally it would be a permanent Leonardo museum within the museum.

Of course, that way works such as Veronese’s Marriage at Cana would be spared the indignity of being utterly ignored by the Mona Lisa’s crowds – and kept at a safe distance from stray missiles.

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