On Sunday 29th of May, the famous Mona Lisa was the victim of the most absurd attack. A man, dressed as an elderly lady stood up from a wheelchair, threw a cream pie on the painting before spreading it on the museum glass protection and leaving behind him a few roses. Why? What was his motivation? While being escorted by the museum’s security, the activist told the crowd in French “Think about the Earth. There are people who are destroying the Earth. Think about it … all artists, think about the Earth — this is why I did this. Think about the planet.” The link between the action and the message is not very obvious.
But let’s take a moment to remember that it is not the first time that the portrait of Lisa del Giocondo was the subject of such act of vandalism.
Leonardo’s Mona Lisa is definitely the most famous painting of all time and since it was painted in 1503, it has attracted a fair share of deranged admirers. It has been attacked 4 times prior to this year’s attack. The first time in 1956, when someone doused the lower half of the canvas with acid. The same year, a Bolivian national threw a rock at the painting, which left a chip that was restored. It is after this that the museum ensured to protect the painting by displaying it behind bulletproof glass. Unfortunately, this measure wasn’t enough to deter ill-intentioned individuals. In 1974, a woman with reduced mobility spray-painted the Mona Lisa while on display at the Tokyo National Museum, complaining about the lack of access. After this, the painting never left the Louvre again. Finally, in 2009, a Russian woman threw a mug at the painting after she was denied her French citizenship.
There is a reason why masterpieces become great works of art. They move the public in a way that is both immediate and timeless. Great artworks have the power to move us, positively or negatively. The Mona Lisa is not the only painting to have been a victim of vandalism. Another notable example of such violent act is Diego Velasquez’s Rokeby Venus (1651) from London’s National Gallery. In 1914, in protest after the arrest of a fellow suffragette, the Canadian activist Mary Richardson damaged the Goddess of Love with a meat cleaver. The work was restored and returned on view.
Never a dull day in the art world…
Originally published in June 2022