In Louvre News: Mona Lisa Moves
April, 2005—We tend to think of the Musée du Louvre as an unchanging, stalwart of tradition. But recently the museum has been revealing a more dynamic side—inviting contemporary artists, for example, to create works inspired by the Louvre’s collections.
The Louvre is also doing an impressive amount of remodeling. Since November, visitors have been streaming in to gaze at the newly gilded glamour of the Galerie d’Apollon—the Louvre’s answer to Versailles’s Hall of Mirrors. And just this week the Salle des États (aka Mona Lisa’s gallery since 1950) reopened after four long years of renovation.
If you’ve visited the Louvre at some point since 2001, you saw Leonardo’s mythic portrait in her “temporary” home, at the very end of the long Grand Galerie. Because 90% of the 6 million visitors the Louvre welcomes every year visit La Joconde, the museum can’t just hang her anywhere. Her newly refurbished space was designed to better accommodate those crowds and to improve the 7-minute visual experience an average viewer has with the painting. Special lighting was created to eliminate shadows caused by the frame. Her protective glass was also changed, so that Leonardo’s translucent optical effects are now more visible. Special acoustics were installed to help absorb crowd noise.
(We’re wondering if accomodating film crews was another consideration? Hollywood director Ron Howard will begin filming “The Da Vinci Code” here in May...).
Art historically speaking, Mona Lisa back in the Salle des États makes more sense too. She is no longer at the “end” of the Renaissance (paintings in the Grand Galerie are hung chronologically), but mid-way through where she should be. She is surrounded by 16th-century Venetian masters—Titian, Tintoretto, and Bassano—whose styles were profoundly shaped by Leonardo’s example.
Veronese’s Wedding of Cana (1562-63) the Louvre’s largest painting, now hangs directly across from its most famous one. To remove this gigantic canvas from the gallery before the remodeling started, workers had to break the door frames of the Salle des États (the frames were eventually replaced with removable ones). Some visitors may find the 28 meters (about 84 feet) separating Mona Lisa from Veronese too close for comfort. Unlike Leonardo’s small and intimate portrait, the Veronese is a painting you really need to back up to see. The Louvre has pointed out, however, that the refectory at San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, where the painting originally hung before its 1798 seizure by Napoléon, was also just about 28 meters.
Like everything else in the Louvre, each of these decisions was carefully weighed. There is one curator at the Louvre, after all, whose entire job and responsibility is looking after Mona Lisa.