The procession takes a good half-hour, from IM Pei’s glass pyramid to the presence of the world’s most famous woman. There are brief bottlenecks at the metal detector, and again as the crowd is herded into the Richelieu wing.
For the most part, they flow smoothly. The Louvre’s management of Mona Lisa mania is a masterpiece of crowd control.
Four-fifths of up to 40,000 daily visitors want to see the Mona Lisa first. Many want to see her only.
The tourists walk single file up three floors of escalators. They ignore the splendid Rubens frescos in the room where Mona Lisa has been temporarily located.
Security guards hover, determined to prevent the crowd coagulating.
The planetary success of this rather dowdy matron is a mind-boggling example of the arbitrariness of fame.
Let’s go. Avancez, s’il vous plaît.
No flash. One picture.
Fine guys,” is the sound track provided by guards, heard over the quiet humming of cameras and smartphones.
Mona Lisa’s nationality – and even that of her creator – is a centuries-old bone of contention.
The guard has a point.
He hanged his favourite paintings there, including La Giaconda, La Joconde or Mona Lisa. So she was there from the beginning.
On October 24th, the Louvre will open a blockbuster exhibition celebrating the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo. The Italian nationalist leader, Matteo Salvini, who is on particularly bad terms with President Emmanuel Macron, has done his best to thwart loans from Italian collections.
In the anteroom on the far side of the Mona Lisa, I meet 10-year-old Giuliana Afflitto, from Naples. The schoolgirl is in ecstasy at having seen her icon.
“What emotion! She’s so refined! So impressive!”
“They stole her. She should be in Florence!” says Giuliana’s father Salvatore.
“It’s not right we have to pay to see our history.”
Her return to Paris, two years later, was a French triumph. “We start seeing photographs of crowds in front of the painting from that point on,” says Vincent Pomarède, deputy administrator of the Louvre and the author of Jocondomania.
“The video has had an enormous effect,” says a source at the Louvre. “Kids from all over the world mimic their dance steps in front of the art.
“But I’m travelling with 18 people, and she was the only thing they wanted to see.”
“I prefer the ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman collections,” he said. “You can look at them in peace, without anyone telling you to hurry up.
The UN says 1.3 billion people took holidays in a foreign country in 2017.
But you have to wonder how enriching are a few seconds and a selfie with Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile.