June 3, 2012 EIGHT million people a year shuffle down the long galleries of The Louvre. On any summer Sunday, it feels like all of them are there on the same day. That’s the cost of modern tourism and who can argue with that when it pays The Louvre’s rent? The main attraction is, of course, the famous enigmatic portrait of a woman who may or may not be Lisa Gherardini, wife of Florentine merchant Francesco Giocondo. It doesn’t really matter – Leonardo da Vinci’s painting is now the world’s most famous artwork. Stolen once, or maybe twice, because no-one is quite sure how it came to be the French national collection, La Gioconda now smiles from behind a sheath of tinted bulletproof glass, protected for all time by burglar alarms. Along with the roar from the gathered throng, the other sound of the Louvre is the wail of the alarms which go-off with depressing regularity.
We shuffled down the gallery in a long crocodile of humanity, sometimes struggling in futility against the current to look at the other, arguably greater masterpieces on the walls, before being swept into the gallery. Thirty-five thousand works on display but most people have only come for this one. And here’s the thing: even with the noise, the crush, the alarms, the hubbub, the popping camera flashes … the sheer indignity of it all, the Mona Lisa still takes the breath away. It is, simply, beautiful.