PARIS (AP) – The ‘Mona Lisa’ was all alone. The corona virus had emptied her room in the Louvre Museum from the usual crowds of admirers.
In a silence worthy of a cathedral, she could stare undisturbed at the huge canvas on the opposite wall, “The Wedding Feast at Cana,” which depicts Christ surrounded by 130 partygoers, painted centuries before social distance became a thing.
But now, sigh, the world’s most famous portrait must return to the grindstone after four months of virus-imposed inactivity.
Even with that famously enigmatic smile, luring crowds to the most visited museum in the world promises to be a daunting task.
Before mass tourism with the coronavirus pandemic came to a halt, the Louvre attracted 30,000 to 50,000 visitors a day during the busy summer season. But when the museum opens again on July 6, the museum director expects those figures to shrink.
“If we get 10,000 a day, I would be very surprised,” says Jean-Luc Martinez.
Which means, for those who can manage a trip through Paris, a golden opportunity for a rare, crowd-free access to the Louvre’s giant galleries and huge marble staircases and perhaps even an undisturbed face-time with “Mona Lisa” herself.
About 70% of the giant museum – about 45,000 square meters (484,000 square feet) of space, or the equivalent of 230 tennis courts – will be open and house 30,000 of the Louvre’s vast array of works. Enough to give visitors sore feet.
For Louvre employees who kept the suddenly empty building and treasures safely under lock and key during closure, the reopening marks the end of their otherworldly experience of having the former royal palace all to themselves.
“It was magical,” said Leila Cherif-Hadria, who had never seen the museum so empty in her twenty years of working there.
‘A moment in time. It was very pleasant. We have not seen ghosts. But for a long time we were alone without sounds. It was very peculiar, destabilizing, unknown to us. We knew we were experiencing something unique and I hope it will never be repeated, but we enjoyed it. ”
The loss of ticket and souvenir sales and other income blocked a museum revenue of $ 40 million ($ 45 million). Martinez, the museum director, cannot say when visitor numbers can recover. Nearly three-quarters of last year’s 9.6 million visitors to the Louvre came from abroad, many of them from countries led by the United States and China, which have been cut off from the European Union since the pandemic.
Visitor numbers also fell 40% after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, and “took three years to come back,” Martinez noted.
So to you, “Mona Lisa.” No longer the ‘cold and lonely beautiful work of art’ that Nat King Cole sang about, she is counted on to work her seductive magic now that the closing is over in France.
The Louvre says visitors spend an average of 54 seconds – much more than other works – and gaze at Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a wealthy silk merchant in Florence, Italy, in the 16th century. (The Renaissance genius never finished and dragged the work with him, even on his last trip to France in 1516, where King Francois I bought it.)
Her fans are separated by dots on the floor while waiting in line for an audience – if there is a line. Signs remind hawkers that “Mona Lisa has many admirers. Don’t forget to keep your visit short and sweet so that everyone has a chance to meet her.”
Museum visitors must reserve a time slot for their visit, which can be done online. About 400-500 visitors are allowed into the Louvre every half hour. Inside, the museum also regulates visitor flows with signs that read ‘sense of visit’ in English, a somewhat strange translation, but all part of efforts to prevent people from getting too close while the corona virus is still circulating and costing lives.
Masks are mandatory for all visitors from 11 years old.
But of course not for the ‘Mona Lisa’.
Follow the AP virus outbreak coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed without permission.