An iconic defeat for the History of Art
Paris is for an art lover a bottomless shrine of things to admire and discover. But how much of this idealistic aspect is actually reflected by the main attraction of this European capital of arts?
The Louvre is the largest and most visited museum in the world, with a collection of over 400.000 pieces distributed inside a sumptuous palace next to the Tuileries gardens. Inside are preserved some of the most stunning works ever made by human hand, from the uniqueness of the Nike of Samotracia, to huge canvases by French masters Gèricault and Delacroix. Every year an insane number of visitors line up early in the morning to get lost in what the place has to offer, but the majority comes here for one reason, the Mona Lisa.
A troubled history and an enigmatic composition turned it into the most famous painting in the world. No matter if you’ve never been inside a museum before, or even opened an art book, the portrait of the Florentine Lisa Gherardeschi executed by Leonardo da Vinci, is universally known and recognizable by almost everyone. Even if the galleries of the Louvre have much more to offer, it seems like thousands of people are ready to sacrifice the biggest part of the collection for a single portrait.
I’ve been to Paris twice in the past five years, and if during my first visit the phenomenon was already huge, the situation early this May was out of control. One can see entire groups of people skipping mercilessly masterpieces by Caravaggio or Raphael to hurry up towards the Mona Lisa room, well indicated by signs from the very beginning of the museum. Once you get at the entrance of the room, depending on what time is it, there can be a queue. What unfolds under your eyes is a large, noisy and clumsy crowd trying to get the best possible shot of a small, discreet portrait.
Now the main issue is that the painting, for obvious security reasons is hanging 1.5 m away from a barrier, that marks the closer one can get, culminating in what looks like a little podium to take a picture of or with the painting (“just one picture and then leave” these are the words from guards directing the crowd out of the room). “Don’t push”, “No selfie stick”, “do not stand in the front”, all of this is not what you hear at the meet and greet of a pop idol, these are the rules to meet and greet the most well-known painting of all times, eaten by a sad triumph of ignorance.
Standing at the back of the crowd I couldn’t help but wonder: How many here know that Leonardo took 12 years to paint that smile, a smile that we will never see in real life because kept too far from a multitude of people hungry for likes. The Mona Lisa room features on the remaining three walls 26 more Italian masterpieces by Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto and more, forgotten by the mass.