Why Does the Louvre Want to Give the Mona Lisa Her Own Room?

The museum has put forward the idea of displaying the Leonardo masterpiece in a dedicated underground gallery.

The Mona Lisa in the "Salle des États" of the Louvre Museum in Paris. Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP via Getty Images.

The world’s most famous artwork may move to a new underground lair. 

The Louvre is considering moving the Mona Lisa to a subterranean gallery to account for the huge crowds that make the pilgrimage to see her, the museum’s director, Laurence des Cars, recently told France Inter.

“I place it at the heart of my mission as the director to better welcome the public. And it’s always frustrating when our visitor experience is not quite up to par—as is the case, obviously, with the Mona Lisa,” said des Cars. “So, in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, we are thinking about making necessary improvements.”

The museum is responding to widespread visitor dissatisfaction at the viewer experience. A recent study by the company CouponBirds (which helps consumers find discounts) found the Mona Lisa to be the “the world’s most disappointing masterpiece,” with some 37 percent of tourists’ reviews giving the work a thumbs-down. The crowds were a major factor detracting from the impact.

A report by Le Figaro indicates that possible plans are to remove the painting from a large salon shared with numerous other paintings and place it in its own gallery. The plan would include two underground entry points that would bypass the iconic glass pyramid, one of them leading to the Mona Lisa’s gallery and one leading to other special exhibitions. The upgrades are estimated to cost some €500 million (about $535 million). 

“We’ve been thinking about it for a long time, but this time everyone is in agreement,” Vincent Delieuvin, chief curator of 16th-century Italian painting, told Le Figaro. “It’s a large room, and the Mona Lisa is at the back, behind its security glass, so at first glance it looks like a postage stamp. Leonardo da Vinci wanted to establish a face-to-face relationship between the painting and the person contemplating it.”

Some 8.9 million visitors streamed through the museum’s doors in 2023, making it the world’s most-visited museum by far, beating out its nearest contender, the Vatican Museums, by over 2 million. (It’s also the most Googled.) Some 80 percent of them, or 20,000 visitors a day, push their way through the crowds to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa.

Since 1966, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece has hung in the museum’s largest room, the Salle des États or State Room, but it isn’t alone: along with it hang other major Venetian paintings, including Paolo Veronese’s Wedding Feast at Cana (1562–63), the museum’s largest at over 30 feet wide, as well as masterpieces by Titian and Tintoretto. Since 2005, it has hung in a bulletproof glass case, not only to protect the museum from attacks (whether by acid, soup or explosives), but also for climate control, since the wood panel on which it is painted is sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. The museum improved the glass to minimize distracting reflections in 2019.

The Louvre’s new thinking around its biggest attraction comes as Paris is gearing up to welcome a swarm of visitors during the Olympic Games. Ahead of the opening ceremony in July, the museum has raised ticket prices, launched an exhibition celebrating the history of the games, and is now offering yoga and movement sessions.

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