The Mona Lisa is one of the most famous paintings in the world. This small portrait is just 76 by 53 centimeters (30 inches by 21 inches) and was painted by Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci. Considered an Italian Renaissance masterpiece, it is currently being held in Louvre, Paris, under heavy security.
And luckily it is – as, on May 29, 2022, a protester attempted to vandalize the portrait with a cream cake. The culprit was a 36-year-old man disguised as an elderly lady in a wheelchair. According to bystanders, he jumped out of the wheelchair, tried to smash the bulletproof casing, and when that failed smeared cake onto the glass and allegedly threw roses onto the ground. He was later seized by security guards and escorted out of the building with the empty wheelchair.
The stunt seemed to be motivated by climate activism, and he told bystanders in French; " There are people who are destroying the Earth" and “Artists should think about the Earth! All artists think about the Earth. That's why I did it.”
It is thought that the activist got so close to the art piece due to the wheelchair disguise. A spokesperson for the museum told BuzzFeed News that the museum had applied the “usual procedures” for people with disabilities.
Luckily there was no damage to the art piece, but the Mona Lisa has had a very turbulent past and it is not the first time it has faced attempted vandalism or destruction.
The painting originally rose to international stardom when Vincenzo Peruggia stole it in 1911 by hiding in a closet overnight, then stuffing the artwork under his smock and walking out of the building (after getting help from an unsuspecting plumber trying to do a good deed). Nobody noticed the painting was even stolen for 24 hours, but when it was the artwork was splashed over the front pages of international newspapers. Two years later, Peruggia was caught and the Mona Lisa recovered.
1956 was also a rough year for the Mona Lisa. Early in the year, the lower part of the painting was doused in acid. Then, in December, Ugo Ungaza Villegas threw a rock at the painting which damaged her left elbow. Since these acts, the painting has sat under bulletproof glass.
In 2005 the picture was placed in a very complex case. This reinforced bulletproof and non-reflective case has an air treatment system that controls the atmosphere within for desired temperature and relative humidity. This is important as the painting is oil on poplar support, and maintaining the humidity at the optimized level is vital for conservation, as changes can cause the support to contract – 500 years since creation, the support does indeed show signs of warping. The painting is also illuminated by a LED lamp specially developed to enhance the colors and minimize ultraviolet radiation.
This bulletproof glass saved the portrait once more when a Russian woman who was denied French citizenship threw an empty teacup at the painting. However, all this attack did was slightly scratch the surface of the case.