Climate Activists Throw Soup at the ‘Mona Lisa’

Protected by bulletproof glass, Leonardo da Vinci’s famous masterpiece was not harmed

Protestors Throw Soup
Protesters throw soup at the Mona Lisa's protective glass covering at the Louvre on January 28. David Cantiniaux / AFPTV / AFP via Getty Images

A pair of climate activists splattered soup onto the Mona Lisa at Paris’ Louvre museum on Sunday. The orange liquid landed on the painting’s bulletproof glass casing, and the Renaissance masterpiece suffered no damage.

As the New York Times’ Roger Cohen reports, nearby spectators gasped as two young women flung the soup from bottles. They then ducked under a wooden barrier and stood on either side of the Leonardo da Vinci artwork, facing a crowd of onlookers.

“What is more important? Art or the right to have a healthy and sustainable food system?” they said in French before museum security guards led them away. “Our agricultural system is sick.”

Climate activists throw soup at 'Mona Lisa' in Paris

Museum officials say that security quickly intervened in the protest, according to CNN’s Stephanie Halasz, Chris Liakos and Oscar Holland. Staffers placed black screens around the painting, attempting to block spectators’ view of the scene, and temporarily evacuated the Salle des États (“Room of States”), where the Mona Lisa is kept.

One protester wore a T-shirt bearing the name of her organization, “Riposte Alimentaire” (French for “Food Response”). The group is part of the A22 movement, a coalition of climate activism organizations, such as Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil, known for similar stunts.

In recent years, such groups have targeted renowned artworks around the world in the name of climate activism. In some cases, activists have glued themselves to famous paintings, such as Horatio McCulloch’s My Heart’s in the Highlands at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. On other occasions, they’ve splattered artworks with substances like food or paint.

In October 2022, for example, protesters with Just Stop Oil threw tomato soup onto Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers at London’s National Gallery. “What is worth more—art or life?” cried one of the activists. “Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting, or the protection of our planet and people?”

Mona Lisa
Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa in the early 1500s. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Mona Lisa has faced its fair share of danger. In 1911, a museum employee stole the painting, increasing its international fame. It’s been behind glass since a visitor poured acid on it in the 1950s, damaging the frame, per CNN. In 2009, a woman threw a ceramic cup at the work, and two years ago, a man smeared cake onto the glass before telling spectators to “think about the Earth.”

The Times writes that the most recent attack on the painting will “heighten security concerns ahead of the Paris Olympics,” which are set to begin six months from now in France’s capital.

In a post on X (formerly Twitter), France’s newly-appointed culture minister, Rachida Dati, condemned Riposte Alimentaire’s vandalism, expressing support for the historical artwork and the Louvre’s staff.

“The Mona Lisa, like our heritage, belongs to future generations,” she wrote, per Google Translate. “No cause can justify [it] being targeted!”

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