Our son’s wedding in Europe last week gave us the perfect excuse to visit some of the world’s most spectacular museums and view masterpieces up close that I’d only ever seen in books.
As an Art teacher who had never experienced Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in person, the Musee du Louvre in Paris had to be our first stop! Many people warned me that I’d be surprised when I finally saw her…. and I was. But not for the reasons they expected!
For years, I’d heard people say how surprised they were to see the Mona Lisa in real life and discover that the world’s most famous painting is actually quite small (30″ x 21″ or 77cm x 53cm). But I was prepared for Mona’s diminutive size…. I usually mention the size of the artworks I teach my students about. So, no surprise there!
I’d also heard people say they were surprised that the Mona Lisa, frame and all, is completely encased in bullet-proof glass and that the crowds of people waiting to catch a glimpse of her make it hard to even get close. So, again, no surprise when I found this also to be true! We saw the best and worst of humanity in that crowd, with a few people politely saying “Excuse me” in whatever was their native language while others just pushed and shoved to gain a more premium piece of real estate for their photo op. (Really, people…. where are your manners??!)
What did surprise me, though, was the amount of photography going on in that room!
From cameras held high above heads and zoomed in to the max, to selfies with Mona in the background, nearly everyone there was all about taking pictures. They were not staring awestruck at this work of legendary artistry as I expected they would…. really, they were just focused on getting a good picture of it.
I guess this surprised me because photography is often forbidden in exhibits of far less importance.
There are good reasons for not allowing photo-taking in museums, including copyright issues and the preservation of the art (in the case of flash photography). While that logic may not apply here (the Mona Lisa is in the public domain and flash photography is not allowed anywhere at the Louvre), certainly crowd control, flow of traffic, and the viewer experience could all be reasonable arguments for not allowing photos of a painting of this significance.
I’m often confused about whether or not it’s okay to take pictures in a museum. It’s safe to assume that selfie-sticks and flash photography are banned in most museums – although the guys selling selfie sticks outside the museum entrance won’t tell you that! But the rules for otherwise taking photos will vary not only from museum to museum, but even from exhibit to exhibit within the same museum. It can be hard to know what’s allowed and what’s off limits until you raise up your camera or phone to take a picture and check the reaction of the nearby security guard!
But the Mona Lisa was being photographed with abandon and the security guards were obviously okay with this.
I came prepared to buy a postcard in the gift shop, but instead I surprised myself and followed the crowd…. and left with a selfie!