Mona Lisa Is Alone, but Nonetheless Smiling


PARIS — From her bulletproof situation in the Louvre Museum, Mona Lisa’s smile met an unfamiliar sight the other morning: Emptiness. The gallery wherever throngs of guests swarmed to ogle her day immediately after day was a void, deserted below France’s hottest coronavirus confinement.

All-around the corner, the Winged Victory of Samothrace floated quietly over a marble staircase, majestic in the absence of selfie-sticks and tour groups. In the Louvre’s medieval basement, the Fantastic Sphinx of Tanis loomed in the dark like a granite ghost from behind bars.

Nevertheless out of the uncommon and monumental stillness, sounds of lifestyle have been stirring in the Louvre’s fantastic halls.

The rat-a-tat of a jackhammer echoed from a ceiling over the Sphinx’s head. Rap music thumped from the Bronze Area below Cy Twombly’s ceiling in the Sully Wing, close to wherever staff have been sawing parquet for a giant new floor. In Louis XIV’s former apartments, restorers in surgical masks climbed scaffolding to tamp gold leaf onto ornate moldings.

The world’s most visited museum — a record ten million in 2019, largely from overseas — is grappling with its longest closure given that Globe War II, as pandemic restrictions retain its treasures below lock and important. But without the need of crowds that can swell to as lots of as forty,000 persons a day, museum officials are seizing a golden chance to finesse a grand refurbishment for when guests return.

“For some tasks, the lockdown has permitted us to do in 5 days what would have previously taken 5 weeks,” stated Sébastien Allard, the standard curator and director of the Louvre’s paintings division.

Louvre lovers have had to settle for seeing masterpieces in the course of the pandemic via virtual excursions and the hashtags #LouvreChezVous and @MuseeLouvre. Hundreds of thousands of viewers acquired a magnificent resolve this month from the Netflix hit series Lupin, in which the actor Omar Sy, enjoying a gentleman thief, stars in action-filled scenes in the Louvre’s finest-identified galleries and below I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid.

But virtual actuality can hardly exchange the actual matter. Louvre officials are hoping the government will reopen cultural institutions to the public quickly, whilst the date depends on the program the virus will take.

In the meantime, a little army of all around 250 artisans has been functioning given that France’s hottest lockdown went into result on Oct. thirty. As a substitute of waiting till Tuesdays — the sole day that the Louvre employed to shut — curators, restorers, conservationists and other gurus are pressing ahead 5 days a week to total significant renovations that had commenced just before the pandemic, and introduce new beautifications that they hope to finish by mid-February.

Some of the do the job is reasonably easy, like dusting the frames of virtually four,500 paintings. Some is herculean, like makeovers in the Egyptian antiquities hall and the Sully Wing. Just about forty,000 explanatory plaques in English and French are currently being hung subsequent to artwork operates.

Even just before the pandemic, the Louvre was taking a tricky search at crowd management since mass tourism had meant lots of galleries have been choked with tour groups. Though travel restrictions have slashed the quantity of guests, the museum will restrict entry to ticket holders with reservations when it reopens to meet well being protocols.

Other improvements are planned — like new interactive experiences, like yoga sessions each half-hour on Wednesdays close to Jacques-Louis David and Rubens masterpieces, and workshops in which actors perform scenes from famed tableaux appropriate in front of the canvas.

“It’s a callout to say the museum is residing, and that persons have the appropriate to do these factors right here,” stated Marina-Pia Vitali, a deputy director of interpretation who oversees the tasks.

When I walked the halls on a latest stop by, I felt a thrill on seeing the Venus de Milo rise from her pedestal — minus the glow of iPhones — and admired, at leisure, the drape of sheer material chiseled from unblemished marble.

In the cavernous Red Area — household to monumental French paintings like the coronation of Napoleon as emperor in Notre Dame, and the Raft of the Medusa, depicting gray-skinned souls just clinging to lifestyle — it felt uplifting not to be swept along by throngs.

In the Egyptian Wing, antiquities gurus cleaned a two-ton granite stele that will dominate a new entrance. Staff are also refurbishing the Mastaba, element of an Egyptian tomb that is between the Louvre’s most common artifacts, in a dust-covered gallery scattered with saws and hammers.

Sophie Duberson, a restorer, took a child’s toothbrush and delicately eliminated grime from the stele’s hieroglyphs, which present guidelines for reviving Sénousret, chief of the Egyptian treasury in the course of the 12th Dynasty, in the afterworld.

Vincent Rondot, the Louvre’s director of Egyptian antiquities, inspected a short-term 6-story help construction that had been constructed all around the Mastaba, wherever a new angular entry wall would be erected in time for the return of hoped-for crowds.

“No 1 is celebrating the virus,” stated Mr. Rondot, as sparks flew from a close by worker’s cutting device. “But we can welcome this condition since it lets us focus on the do the job.”

At the similar time, social distancing protocols restrict the quantity of staff permitted in closed spaces, which can occasionally brake progress.

Artisans applying gold leaf in Louis XIV’s rooms, for instance, ought to clear away masks to blow on the paper-thin metal. Staff have to retain far apart, so fewer can do the task and the do the job can consider additional time.

The pandemic also has wreaked havoc with arranging for particular exhibits. The Louvre lends all around 400 operates a yr to other museums, and receives several loans for particular displays.

“It’s definitely difficult since all museums in the planet are in the procedure of altering their arranging,” Mr. Allard stated.

As governments buy new restrictions to incorporate a resurgence of the virus, particular displays are currently being pushed back. A loan reserved for exhibits at many museums may possibly get caught in confinements, creating it difficult to supply the promised artwork, he stated.

On a little metal dolly close by, the self-portrait of a younger Rembrandt, resplendent in a jaunty black beret, a thick gold necklace and a assured smile, rested in an ornate oval frame. The 1633 blockbuster had been lent to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, but was stranded for 3 months there since of coronavirus travel restrictions. A couple of days earlier, he had returned to his household at the Louvre by truck via the underwater Channel Tunnel linking Britain and France.

Blaise Ducos, chief curator of the Louvre’s Dutch and Flemish paintings assortment, usually accompanies loans to and from their location, but could only observe the Rembrandt’s elimination by video. He drove to Calais to get the masterpiece when it emerged from the Chunnel, and was at final overseeing its rehanging in the Louvre’s Rembrandt area.

“We’re content to have him back,” Mr. Ducos stated.

Close by, staff climbed a rolling scaffold to clear away an tremendous Van Dyck painting of Venus asking Vulcan for arms. Destined for an exhibit in Madrid, the painting was whisked via the Dutch halls, previous Vermeer’s Astronomer learning an astrolabe, just before receiving caught in front of a little doorway in the Rubens area.

The staff turned the painting on its side and slid it on pillows to the subsequent gallery, wherever it would go on to be packaged and — pandemic restrictions permitting — sent on its way.

“Covid has been a force majeure,” stated Mr. Allard, as a duo of Dutch paintings have been hoisted to exchange the Van Dyck. “At the minute we have so lots of query marks — it is tricky to know what the condition will be in two, 3 or 4 months,” he stated.

“But in spite of Covid, we proceed to do the job as normally,” Mr. Allard continued. “We ought to be prepared to welcome back the public.”


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