PARIS — The way to Salle des États — the largest room at Musee du Louvre — doesn’t require a map nor directions from one of the guides.
You simply follow the multitude that bought the paltry €15 ticket for a one-day entry to the world’s premier museum.
The vast majority of those who opted to get inside the Louvre — armed with maps in seven languages — just had one thing in mind.
They all wanted to see Lisa Gherardini, better known as Mona Lisa, the Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece which has captivated the world for centuries.
Given its prominence and its stature as one of the world’s premier works of art, the Mona Lisa is displayed at the Louvre’s most-sought after area to accommodate the crowds that constantly gawk at it as if it were a circus freak.
But it’s nothing close to being one.
Just a couple of weeks before I braved the long lines and almost nearly gave up queueing, a climate change protester smeared it with cake.
Authorities later found out that the protester came to the museum in a wheelchair, dressed as a woman and becoming the growing list of vandals of the iconic Renaissance work.
Interestingly, in 1956 there were two attempts to vandalize it.
First, somebody with a razor blade came to damage it but was unsuccessful and later, Hugo Villegas, a Bolivian, threw a rock at the Mona Lisa.
Since 1966, the Mona Lisa has been on display at the Salle des État, which has a floor space of 698 sq. meters.
It has since been renovated and refurbished to allow an excellent viewing experience for visitors and a glass panel has been place for security purposes.
According to the Louvre’s website, “the masterpiece stands out more distinctly against the dark background that eliminates any effect of light from behind.”
True enough, getting an opportunity to view La Gioconda (Italian) and La Joconde (French), nicknames of the Mona Lisa, is truly memorable.
No doubt, many people have included this on their bucket lists.
What makes the Mona Lisa rank among the very best is the history behind it.
Da Vinci’s subject was Lisa Gherardini, the wife Francesco del Giocondo, a merchant and art lover from Florence.
Before Da Vinci’s famous portrait found a home at the Louvre, it was first held by Francis I, the King of France, whose court was where Da Vinci spent his twilight years.
For some time, it was even displayed at Napoleon’s bedroom prior to its arrival at the Louvre at the turn of the 19th century.
But in 1911, it was taken away at the Louvre and people were aghast that such mishap could happen.
The director of the museum even stepped down owing to embarrassment and even Pablo Picasso was once seen as a suspect.
As it turns out, it was a former Louvre worker who ran away with the Mona Lisa and it took two years before it was recovered after a Florence art dealer alerted authorities about a fellow who was trying to sell it.
An Italian, Vincenzo Peruggia, was arrested, tried, convicted and imprisoned, enabling the famed painting to tour around Italy.
Later, it was returned to France before it toured the world, visiting the United States in 1963 and 1974 in Japan.
Today, the Mona Lisa is the Louvre’s undisputed No. 1 attraction.
From gradeschoolers on excursion and adults alike, the Mona Lisa draws the crowd like no other work of art.
Owing to its iconic status, even the Ancient Greek sculpture Venus de Milo — also in full display at the Louvre — pales in comparison to the Mona Lisa in terms of magnetism.
While it is Da Vinci’s magnum opus that defines the Louvre, the museum also boasts of other epic works of art.
Right across the Mona Lisa at the Salle des État is the Wedding at Cana (1563), the Paolo Venorese piece that famously depicted the Biblical water-into-wine miracle of Jesus Christ.
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