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More Than One Million People Saw the Louvre’s Blockbuster Leonardo da Vinci Exhibition

The record-breaking show attracted almost double the number of visitors as the Paris museum’s 2018 Delacroix retrospective

Tourists wait to see Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. (AP Photo / Thibault Camus)
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The Louvre’s blockbuster Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, held to mark the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death, drew a record-breaking number of visitors over the course of its four-month run. Per a press release, the show welcomed 1,071,840 attendees—roughly twice the number who attended the Paris museum’s 2018 Delacroix retrospective—between its opening on October 24, 2019, and its closing this Monday.

Aptly titled “Leonardo da Vinci,” the exhibit featured more than 160 paintings, drawings and scientific studies organized into four groups tracing their creator’s development as an artist, reported Farah Nayeri for the New York Times last October. Highlights included 11 of the 20 or so paintings attributed to the artist, sketches and botanical illustrations Leonardo used to study topics from plant growth to human anatomy, and an unfinished painting of Saint Jerome loaned by the Vatican Museums.

“Most of Leonardo’s paintings are incomplete,” said Vincent Delieuvin, one of the show’s curators, to the Times. “This is not an artist who’s interested in producing frescoes by the kilometer, of painting never-ending madonnas and portraits. He wants to take his time, and to paint perfect works.”

Anticipating crowds, the Louvre sold timed tickets aimed at mitigating overcrowding. The exhibition still managed to attract an average of 9,783 visitors per day, according to the press release.

The Vitruvian Man
Leonardo's Vitruvian Man appeared in the Louvre's exhibition following the failure of a last-minute appeal aimed at preventing the fragile drawing’s loan to France. (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Leonardo’s most celebrated work, the Mona Lisa, was presented separately from the exhibition, remaining in its longtime home, the Salle des États. Despite the Louvre’s best efforts, Salvator Mundi, which sold at auction for $450.3 million in 2017 and hasn’t been seen since, didn’t make it into the exhibit. But the Vitruvian Man, Leonardo’s famous—and fragile—drawing of a male figure with idealized body proportions, did appear, controversially receiving approval to travel from Italy just days before the show’s opening. Works from the Louvre’s own collections, including five paintings (The Virgin of the Rocks, La Belle Ferronnière, The Mona Lisa, The Saint John the Baptist, and The Saint Anne) and 22 drawings, also featured in the exhibition.

The museum hosted 46 after-hours evening sessions during the exhibition’s run. In its last days, reports Katie White for artnet News, the Paris institution kept the show open for nearly 81 hours straight, making an additional 30,000 free tickets available for the Louvre’s first-ever all-night viewings.

“For visitors, this is their only chance to see, or see again, so many works brought together by this Renaissance genius, and in this unique, nighttime atmosphere,” the Louvre’s president-director, Jean-Luc Martinez, told Marie-Anne Kleiber at Le Journal du Dimanche when the three-day event was announced. The free nights were a way to “remind everyone that the museum is open to all,” he added.

Because the tickets went online just weeks before the exhibit closed, the crowd was comprised of more locals than the Louvre normally draws. And because the free tickets were for all hours of the night, the crowd was also unusually young, reports Farah Nayeri for the New York Times.

Caelia Coombes, who brought her 8- and 14-year-old children to the nighttime event, tells the Times, “[I]t’s something we’ll do once in our lifetime, visiting the Louvre by night and seeing Leonardo da Vinci. It’s magic.”

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