The Louvre Is Thinking About Moving the ‘Mona Lisa’ to Its Own Room Underground

Officials hope to improve visitors’ experience in the Paris museum’s Salle des États

Leonardo is best known for painting the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper. Eric Feferberg / AFP via Getty Images

Every year, millions of people see Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa at the Louvre. But many of those who’ve crowded around the small painting—visible through bulletproof glass in the Paris museum’s Salle des États—recently expressed their distaste for the viewing experience in a survey, calling it “torture” and saying they’ve “never been so disappointed.”

To curb such discontent, museum director Laurence des Cars has suggested moving Leonardo’s enigmatic portrait to its own subterranean room.

“We don’t welcome visitors very well in [the Salle des États], so we feel we’re not doing our job properly,” des Cars said at a recent management seminar, per the Telegraph’s Henry Samuel. “Moving the Mona Lisa to a separate room could put an end to public disappointment.”

Painted in the early 1500s, the Mona Lisa is Renaissance artist Leonardo’s best-known work—and perhaps the world’s most famous painting. It arrived at the Louvre in 1804. Today, the work draws 80 percent of the museum’s nine million annual visitors, per the Telegraph. Some days, as many as 25,000 people step up to see the portrait—and on average, each one gets just 50 seconds to admire it in the “perpetually crammed” Salle des États, as the London Times’ David Chazan and Laura Freeman write.

For these reasons, surveyed museumgoers have dubbed the Mona Lisa “the world’s most disappointing masterpiece,” according to a new report from CouponBirds, a website that helps consumers find discount codes. After analyzing more than 18,000 visitor reviews mentioning the work, the company found that nearly 40 percent of comments were negative.

Old crowd
Before the museum repainted the hall and added a guided queue in 2019, large crowds gathered freely around the famed portrait. Victor Grigas via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0

The oil portrait measures just 30 by 21 inches. Despite its small size, barriers and staff keep viewers at a distance—security measures that took on new relevance after protesters threw soup at the painting in January. Some visitors persist through the viewing crowd to gain the nearest possible audience with the Mona Lisa, but most “turn their backs to snap a selfie in front of the portrait before the guards move them on,” writes the Times.

“Leonardo da Vinci wanted to establish a face-to-face relationship between the painting and the person contemplating it,” Vincent Delieuvin, the Louvre’s chief curator of 16th-century Italian painting, tells Le Figaro’s Claire Bommelaer, per a translation from the Telegraph. However, the artist’s intention is thwarted by the portrait’s current setup in the Salle des États. “It’s a large room, and the Mona Lisa is at the back, behind its security glass, so at first glance it looks like a postage stamp,” Delieuvin adds.

The museum has made other attempts to improve the Mona Lisa’s display, including repainting the hall and streamlining the queuing system several years ago. But the viewing experience “didn’t really get a lot better for tourists,” Delieuvin tells Le Figaro, per a translation from the London Times. Museum leadership has been considering moving the painting for “a long time”—and now, “everyone is in agreement.”

Per the proposal by des Cars, a new underground room would be built to house the portrait as part of a larger renovation effort. The director noted that the piece’s relocation would create more space in the Salle des États, returning coherence to its collection of Venetian works, some of which are often obscured by selfie sticks.

“The mood in the museum is now ripe,” des Cars said. “We have to embrace the painting’s status as a global icon, which is beyond our control.”

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