PARIS, France – What do Leonardo da Vinci’s famous portrait, the Mona Lisa, and climate change have in common? That is the question many are asking after a man dressed as an old woman in a wheelchair threw cake at the treasured piece of art last week.
The incident occurred on May 29, when a climate activist described as a 36-year-old man in a wig and lipstick, and in a wheelchair, threw a piece of cake at the glass protecting the Mona Lisa. While being whisked away by security guards, he called out what has been translated from French as, “Think of the Earth! There are people who are destroying the Earth! Think about it. Artists tell you: think of the Earth. That’s why I did this.”
The man was also said to have thrown red roses as security guards escorted him away.
The portrait of Lisa Gherardini, known as the Mona Lisa, was painted by da Vinci between the years 1503-1506. It is said to be the most famous portrait in the world, and is therefore housed in the Louvre’s largest room, the Salle des États. The museum has the area directly in front of the painting set aside for those with handicaps, which is why the activist chose to visit in a wheelchair.
Videos of the cake-smeared portrait, security guards cleaning the glass, and the activist being escorted away were circulating on social media.
A statement issued by the Louvre said the man had hidden the cake among his personal belongings and that the painting did not sustain any damage.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said the man was detained and sent to a psychiatric unit for evaluation. An investigation has been opened on charges of damage of cultural artifacts.
According to the Louvre’s website, the Mona Lisa has been in protective glass since 2005, partly to ensure the safety of it, but also for conservation. The work “was not painted on canvas, but on a panel of poplar wood which has warped over the years, causing a crack to appear. To prevent further damage, the Mona Lisa has to be kept in a temperature and humidity-controlled glass case.”
Over the years, the safety of the painting has been threatened. In 1911 it was stolen by a museum employee and its location was unknown for two years. It was recovered after the thief tried to sell it to an Italian art dealer who notified authorities.
In the 1950s, before being placed behind glass protection, it was damaged in an acid attack, and in 2009, a Russian woman who was angry at not being able to obtain French citizenship threw a ceramic cup at it, smashing the cup but not harming the glass or the painting.
Fortunately, da Vinci’s famous lady has survived throughout the centuries. Perhaps the climate activist meant to throw the cake at the portrait of Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France prior to the French Revolution who has been attributed as saying, “Let them eat cake,” upon being told the peasants had no bread.