Was your Memorial Day weekend exciting? Whatever your experience was, it can’t top what happened to the Mona Lisa; an attack against the world’s most famous painting took the cake–literally. The priceless work of art was assaulted by a disguised museum visitor wielding–not a knife or gun–but a piece of cake.
Sunday May 29th was seemingly just another night at the museum. No, it wasn’t New York City’s American Museum of Natural History, and Ben Stiller was nowhere in sight. The location was the Louvre in Paris which houses over 7,500 works in its painting collection. Displayed in the typically crowded room called the Salle des Etats, the Mona Lisa sat with that mysterious smile on her face.
As tourists gathered before Leonardo da Vinci’s oil painting oohing, aahing, and taking pictures, something strange happened. An elderly women in a wheelchair in front of the artwork leapt up, smeared a piece of cream cake across the glass protecting the Renaissance painting, and began yelling in French. Well, yelling in French wasn’t that strange since the museum is in Paris, but the visitor’s actions were certainly unexpected.
Security sprang into action and tackled the attacker who turned out not to be old nor even a woman. Instead it was a 36 year old man wearing a white jeans, an orange scarf, a black wig, and makeup. (Sadly, there’s no word on the color of lipstick the man used to accessorize his vandalism outfit.) He threw red roses at the feet of the security personnel who tackled him. Meanwhile museum staff wiped thick cream off the painting’s protective glass.
Who’d perpetrate such a bold act of vandalism? Based on what the man yelled, he appears to be a climate activist. His words (translated from French, of course), urged those in hearing range to “Think about the Earth….Think about the planet.” Maybe I’m just dense, but I’m having difficulty finding the connection between Mona Lisa, cream cake, and environmental issues.
Carted away from the museum, the attacker ended up a police psychiatric unit for evaluation. Not only is Paris for lovers, but some loonies are in the City of Lights as well. A charge of damaging cultural artifacts is pending. Is this the best charge to pursue? The painting was untouched and undamaged; its protective glass case simply had delicious cream cake spread across it.
Needless to say, those present in the Louvre at the time of the incident got the photo opportunity of a lifetime. Those taking selfies with the smeared cake visible likely said “cake” rather than “cheese” before clicking. (Make that “gateau” instead “fromage” for the French-speaking visitors.)
Video and pictures taken went viral on social media. As a result of the buzz, a t-shirt has already been designed by a Tokyo-based label bearing the image of the painting behind cake smeared protective glass. For a mere $60, this item can be added to your wardrobe. Me? I’d rather spend $60 on delicious cream cake, especially from the Parisian bakery where the offending piece of cake was purchased. I’m waiting for the news report on exactly what type of cake it was and what establishment made it. (Que a stampede to obtain some.)
Although the attacker may be touched in the head, he did have a detailed plan which worked well. Pulling this stunt off was no piece of cake. (Yes, pun intended.) Museum staff believed he was an elderly, disabled woman; they not only admitted him but allowed him access to the spot in front of the painting reserved for the handicapped. Personally, I believe the security staff need eye exams. After seeing the video, I don’t think the perpetrator looks anything like an elderly woma,n.
Although the Mona Lisa may not be connected to the environment per se, its high visibility made it ripe for an attention-getting protest. The painting, owned by the French government, is priceless and holds the Guinness World Record for the highest insurance valuation–$100 million in 1962 ($870 million in 2021). It’s one of the first artworks displayed at the Louvre and the museum’s biggest draw. Before the pandemic as many as 30,000 people a day viewed the Mona Lisa.
Not only is the painting one of the most valuable paintings in the world, it is also OLD. Da Vinci painted the half-length portrait around 1503-1506, making the work over 500 years old. Because of its age and for security, da Vinci’s 16th century masterpiece is kept under strict climate-controlled conditions in a bulletproof glass case. Glass has protected the artwork since the 1950’s.
Despite its worth and fame, the Mona Lisa isn’t huge, measuring only 30 inches by 21 inches. The painting’s subject isn’t anyone famous; although debated, the portrait is believed to be an Italian woman named Lisa Gheradini. Even the portrait’s name is tame. “Monna” in Italian (Americanized to “Mona”) is simply a polite form of address like “ma’am” or “madam.”
Is ultra-tight security really needed for this valuable painting? The answer would be a resounding “YES!” A number of incidents involving the the Mona Lisa have occurred over the years. In 1911, it was stolen by a Louvre employee. (Check those references, peeps!) The bottom of the canvas suffered an acid attack in the 1950’s. A rock was thrown at the painting in 1956. In 1974 when on loan to the National Art Museum in Tokyo, the artwork was sprayed with red paint. And in 2009, a Russian woman flung a ceramic cup at it; the cup broke, but the painting was unharmed. For such a nice, smiling lady, Mona Lisa sure does take a lot of flak.
With all Mona Lisa has been through in her 500+ years, you have to admire her attitude. She’s still smiling. While we may never know why she was smiling when Leonardo da Vinci painted her, I suspect there’s a different reason for her to smile now. She’s enjoying her great popularity with millions of admirers. And maybe, just maybe, she’s thinking, “Hit me with your best shot” when she spots potential vandals. Getting her to frown will be no cakewalk.
Have you ever been to the Louvre? How much security should an art museum have? What’s an appropriate punishment for someone who intentionally damages a valuable piece of art?