Sunday, January 28th.
The Mona Lisa is often considered the world's most famous piece of art. Painted in the 16th century by Leonardo da Vinci, it has been guarded by the Louvre Museum in Paris since 1797. Since then, it has been attacked a total of six times with objects including rocks, mugs, and now soup, in attempts to shock the public and bring attention to a cause. The last protest, in May of 2022, was climate-related and consisted of a man attempting to smear the painting with cake. It concluded with the 36-year-old perpetrator detained and sent to a police psychiatric unit for evaluation.
This recent protest aimed to bring attention to France’s unsustainable agricultural system. It was carried out by two women (aged 24 and 63) wearing shirts that read Riposte Alimentaire (Food Counterattack or Food Response), referring to the activist group that goes by the same name and claims responsibility for the act of vandalism. The painting has luckily remained untouched and unharmed, as it has been protected by bulletproof glass since the early 1950s.
The museum’s response:
The Louvre’s security immediately reacted to the attack. Guards placed black screens in front of the vandalists as they questioned: “What is more important? Art or the right to healthy and sustainable food?”. They were then escorted away and the Salle des Etats, where the painting is located, was evacuated and closed; it has, nonetheless, already reopened. The museum has also made public that they will be moving forward with a formal complaint.
The government’s response:
French Culture Minister Rachida Dati commented on the social media platform X (previously known as Twitter) that the government condemns such acts and reinforced that “no cause can justify [the painting] being targeted”, as it is part of the country’s history and property of the future generations.
There has been a significant increase in attacks on paintings by activists around the world, including in October 2022, when activists threw tomato soup at Van Gogh’s Sunflowers painting, and in November of the same year, in which climate activists threw mashed potatoes on the Grainstacks painting by Claude Monet. While controversial, these protests have proven very effective in calling the public’s attention, and the targeted pieces haven’t suffered any damage. Many have raised the question, however, of how successful these extreme acts have been in gaining attention for the causes they are defending rather than the act of disruptive outbreak itself.
While the cause emphasized might be worthy of protests, as manifestations from farmers have been arising all around France, does it justify the attack on the painting?