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'Mona Lisa' returns to original Paris digs

Da Vinci's work settles into its previous Louvre spot
/ Source: The Associated Press

From her enigmatic smile, the “Mona Lisa” seemed to approve of her new surroundings. But then again, maybe she didn’t.

Either way, her new, roomier home in the Louvre’s refurbished Salle des Etats should make for a better viewing experience for the 6 million people who come to see Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece each year.

“You will be able to rediscover La Joconde,” said curator Cecile Scaillierez, using the French name for the painting. The lighting, display and space accorded the portrait will make it much easier to admire the museum’s top attraction, Scaillierez told reporters at a preview showing Tuesday.

The painting was moved Sunday evening from a cramped location in the Salle Rose down the hall where it had hung since 2001 while the Salle des Etats was under renovation. Before that, the Mona Lisa had been in a different spot in the Salle des Etats for about 40 years. But conditions were poor and there was no air conditioning — an addition that will make it more comfortable for visitors and better protect the works of art.

Da Vinci’s famous painting will go back on public display Wednesday.

Visitors pondering what the Mona Lisa was thinking behind the slight smile da Vinci captured will be able to see her from 100 feet away as they approach the large room. Her portrait is the only object on the mottled beige wall at the far end of the room, and attention is riveted on it.

Gone will be the pedestrian traffic jam that was caused by the painting’s former location on a side wall.

'Positioned ideally'A heavy wooden semicircular railing keeps visitors back from the priceless painting so that more people have an unobstructed view of the picture — which measures just 21 by 30 inches.

Peruvian architect Lorenzo Piqueras conceded the non-reflective, unbreakable glass protecting the picture did give slight reflections at certain angles, but said it was “the best in the world.”

Sunlight filtered through a translucent glass ceiling provides maximum natural light to enable viewers to see the painting as closely as possible to the way da Vinci saw it.

“This room is positioned ideally, running north to south,” so the sun gives even light much of the day, said Piqueras. Computer-controlled artificial light adjusts to fill in where needed.

An innovation in the new display is a special spotlight integrated into the wooden podium in front of the picture, which is intended to make the color as true as possible.

“You can also see the red in the sleeves and in the road in the background, which you couldn’t do before,” said Piqueras, who spent the last seven years designing and supervising the $6.1 million project.

It also brings out the hands, chest and face.

Another Louvre superlative — the huge “Wedding at Cana” by Veronesi — the museum’s largest canvas at 22.21 feet high and 32.61 feet wide — is at the opposite end of the room.

Piqueras said crowds tend to cluster around the two pictures, so he placed them as far apart as possible. That also will enable people to turn around and see the other prize picture immediately, he said.

People who want to look at about 50 other Italian paintings from the 16th century placed along the side walls will be able to move around without colliding with the crowds admiring the featured pictures.

Piqueras said one of his aims was to make the Mona Lisa easier to find in the vast museum.

“You shouldn’t have to get complicated directions to get there,” said Piqueras. “You should just see it.”

Who is she, really?Curator Jean Harbert said researchers have established that the picture was of Lisa Gherardini, wife of obscure Florentine merchant Francesco del Giocond, and that da Vinci started painting it in 1503.

The name Mona Lisa is the equivalent of “Madame Lisa.” La Joconde is the French version of her married name.

Da Vinci is believed to have stopped painting the picture in 1506, but the incomplete look of some of the background leaves doubts that he ever felt he had finished it, Harbert said.

The picture is painted on a thin panel of poplar wood, which makes it fragile, and the museum keeps a close eye on it, Harbert said.

The museum tries to keep the climate at 68 degrees and the humidity at 55 percent, Harbert said.

Besides protecting the picture from visitors, the glass enclosure is designed to slow any climatic changes to prevent warping or a lengthening of a small split that started in the wood a long time ago.

The artist brought the painting to France in 1517. It has been in the Louvre since 1804.