Mona Lisa at the Louvre

Travel Truth: Visiting Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris

Posted on Posted in Art, Europe, Paris
Mona Lisa at the Louvre
All eyes on Mona Lisa at the Louvre

Does your visit to Paris count if you haven’t seen the Mona Lisa at the Louvre?  What if you’ve seen her but didn’t take a selfie, can you still check it off your “bucket list”?  It’s funny (more sad than funny) that many visitors to the Louvre are there just to see Mona Lisa as if the other eight miles of art doesn’t count (it does!).  On my recent post “Travel Truths are Closer than they Appear”, I wrote about how sometimes people don’t want the reality, they want the romantic version that they dream about, the one they’re read in books or seen in movies.  They set the expectations pretty high, sadly, Mona Lisa is just another girl to break your heart and shatter expectations.

It was an infamous robbery, in 1911, by some not so smart thieves in my opinion that started the Mona Lisa lore. A worker upset that the painting belonged in Italy, stole it and hid it in his apartment for two years.  He was discovered when he tried to sell it to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.  The worldwide hunt for Leonardo DaVinci’s painting was all over the headlines in newspapers around the world. When the crime was solved and Mona Lisa returned to the Louvre, she was all the rage – the most famous painting in the world.  Everyone wanted to see her and thus a star is born.  You have to wonder (if you are cynical like me) if this happened today, it would be a good publicity stunt because that theft created interest in Mona Lisa that wasn’t there before.  Before she was a lady on the wall among a plethora of other incredible art.  She was no different until she was gone.

Mona Lisa Gallery at the Louvre
Turn around! There’s art to discover on the wall in the Mona Lisa Gallery

Mona Lisa & Me – The First Visit

On my first visit to see Mona Lisa twenty-five years ago, she was hanging in the main gallery and you knew where she was due to the swells of crowds taking photos.  You had an easy walk until you tried to get close to her and when you pushed your way up front close enough to see, you would like so many around you say “she’s much smaller than I thought”.  But in the age before the internet, my only knowledge of Mona Lisa was in the history books and art classes.  Was it the best painting ever?  In 1992, it was cool to have seen her but if I’m honest I wasn’t enthralled by the painting. Had she not had the fame, I may have just walked on by.

Mona Lisa Louvre hallway of art
The Louvre hallway of paintings and where Mona Lisa hung until 2005

Mona Lisa & My Niece

I’ve seen her a few more times on my visits to the Louvre over the years and she finally got moved into a special gallery in 2005 with a rope to keep your distance as well as special lighting. Here the masses swarm to get a photo and now a selfie.  Two years ago, when my niece and I visited as part of our Treasure Hunt at the Louvre, she was angry that people pushed at her and then didn’t move after their selfies were done.  My niece wasn’t that impressed with Mona Lisa – she had seen her on the internet, in art books and other mediums. It didn’t hold the same weight as it does for those of us of a certain age in my opinion.

Mona Lisa Louvre
Mona Lisa under bulletproof glass in a humidity and temperature controlled enclosure with special lighting – always a glare in photo

Mona Lisa & Mom

On my recent visit to the Louvre with my Mom for an Evening Highlights Tour, Mona Lisa was on the tour but not the only stop along the way.  Mom, like so many others, said “she’s smaller than I thought”.  I pushed Mom to the ropes to take her photo and then we parted the crowd to get out of the sea of cameras and selfie sticks (which are banned and yet folks still use them).  You always see the Mona Lisa photo but the travel truth are the crowds and we were lucky that they weren’t bad on a Wednesday night in September.

Mona Lisa crowds at the Louvre
Travel Truth – there are crowds to deal with if you want to see Mona Lisa

Facing Mona Lisa

Mom, like myself and so many others, was taken with the massive painting across from Mona Lisa, one that makes her look like a postage stamp, and that is The Wedding Feast at Cana.  This painting, like Mona Lisa, has a unique history as well.  This painting originally confiscated by Napoleon’s troops wasn’t returned to Italy as Napoleon sliced it in half (top and bottom portions). Each time I visit Mona Lisa and see the swarms, I turn around and admire this gigantic painting that I seem to discover something new each time. Then I walk around the Mona Lisa room and look at the paintings on the walls that often go overlooked by those who want their Mona Lisa selfie. You often wonder (ok, maybe just me after seeing Night at the Museum) what this room must be like if the paintings came alive at night.  This special room is locked up from the main gallery so the painting don’t get to stroll the halls but the wedding feast has enough to drink, eat and be merry.

Wedding Feast at Cana Louvre Mona Lisa Gallery
Wedding Feast at Cana much more interesting than Mona Lisa in the Gallery at the Louvre
Mona Lisa Gallery at the Louvre paintings
Hey folks, look at all the paintings on the wall near Mona Lisa at the Louvre

Is Mona Lisa Worth It?

So is Mona Lisa worth the visit?  The Louvre is definitely worth the €15 admission but I implore you to plan a day at the museum and at least see the highlights on your first visit.  I think Mona Lisa will be a bit of a letdown if I’m honest. Twenty five years ago she was more of a surprise discovery, now she’s just the girl with good PR.  So go to Paris and be the art tourist for a few hours or a few days – whether you’ve ever visited an art museum before or not – admire the art history at the Louvre, explore the Impressionists at Musee D’Orsay and then catapult yourself into the art of the present day via the Parisian Street Art.  Discover the next great artist or be captured by other great pieces of art along the way – go with no expectations and be surprised.

Cupid and Psyche at the Louvre
Cupid and Psyche at the Louvre – one of my favorites that I always make time to visit
Musee D'Orsay impressionism painting
Color and light in the Impressionist paintings at Musee D’Orsay
Street Art Paris
Finding street art in Paris – reminder not to be a prisoner to the rules (or lists)

Final thoughts or points of discussion?  What if Mona Lisa were never stolen?  Would she be worth the trip or just another girl in a painting?


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