Lockdown aids Louvre as ‘this Sleeping Beauty’ gets ‘time to powder her nose’

20 February 2021, 17:54

A worker transports the painting called Portrait of Antonio de Covarrubias y Leiva by Spanish painter El Greco in the Louvre museum in Paris
Virus Outbreak France Louvre. Picture: PA

It is uncertain when the Paris museum will reopen, after being closed on October 30 in line with the French government’s virus containment measures.

The 518-year-old Mona Lisa has seen many things in her life on a wall, but rarely this – almost four months with no Louvre visitors.

As she stares out through bulletproof glass into the silent Salle des Etats, in what was once the world’s most-visited museum, her celebrated smile could almost denote relief.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa hangs on the wall in a deserted Louvre museum in Paris
Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa hangs on the wall in a deserted Louvre (Thibault Camus/AP)
A worker cleans the Marly courtyard in the Louvre museum in Paris
A worker cleans the Marly courtyard in the museum (Thibault Camus/AP)

A bit further on, the white marble Venus de Milo is for once free of her girdle of picture-snapping visitors.

It is uncertain when the Paris museum will reopen, after being closed on October 30 in line with the French government’s virus containment measures.

But those lucky enough to get in benefit from a rare private look at collections covering 9,000 years of human history – with plenty of space to breathe.

That is normally sorely lacking in a museum that is blighted by its own success – before the pandemic, staff walked out complaining they could not handle the overcrowding, with up to 30,000-40,000 visitors a day.

Dancer Germain Louvet performs during the filming of a commercial in the Louvre museum in Paris
Dancer Germain Louvet performs during the filming of an advert (Thibault Camus/AP)
A man walks through the deserted Louvre museum in Paris
A man walks through the deserted Louvre (Thibault Camus/AP)

The forced closure has also granted museum officials a golden opportunity to carry out long-overdue refurbishments that were simply not possible with nearly 10 million visitors a year.

Unlike the first lockdown, which brought all Louvre activities to a halt, the second has seen some 250 of the museum employees remain fully operational.

An army of curators, restorers and workers are cleaning sculptures, reordering artefacts, checking inventories, reorganising entrances and conducting restorations, including in the Egyptian Wing and the Grande Galerie, the museum’s largest hall that is being fully renovated.

“We’re taking advantage of the museum’s closure to carry out a number of major works, speed up maintenance operations and start repair works that are difficult to schedule when the museum is operating normally,” Laurent le Guedart, the Louvre’s architectural heritage and gardens director, told the Associated Press from inside the Grande Galerie.

Workers of the Louvre museum lift a painting called Christ on the Cross Adored by Two Donors by Spanish painter El Greco as it returns from an exhibition at the Chicago Institute, in the Louvre museum in Paris
Workers lift a painting called Christ on the Cross Adored by Two Donors by Spanish painter El Greco as it returns from an exhibition at the Chicago Institute (Thibault Camus/AP)
Workers handle a bust of Guillaume de Lamoignon by French sculptor Francois Girardon in the Louvre museum in Paris
Staff handle a bust of Guillaume de Lamoignon by French sculptor Francois Girardon (Thibault Camus/AP)

As Mr le Guedart spoke, restorers were standing atop scaffolds taking scientific probes of the walls in preparation for a planned restoration, travelling back to the 18th century through layer after layer of paint.

Around the corner, the sound of carpenters taking up floorboards was faintly audible.

They were putting in the cables for a new security system.

Previously, these jobs could only be done on a Tuesday, the Louvre’s only closed day in the week.

Workers at the Louvre museum set up a scaffolding in Paris
Workers set up scaffolding in the Louvre (Thibault Camus/AP)
Workers at the Louvre museum pull a scaffolding in Paris
Works of art are transported by staff (Thibault Camus/AP)

Now hammers are tapping, machines drilling and brushes scrubbing to a full-week schedule, slowed down only slightly by social distancing measures.

In total, 10 large-scale projects that were on hold since last March are under way – and progressing fast.

This includes works in the Etruscan and Italian Halls, and the gilded Salon Carre.

A major restoration of the ancient Egyptian tomb chapel of Akhethotep from 2400BC is also under way.

“When the museum reopens, everything will be perfect for its visitors – this Sleeping Beauty will have had the time to powder her nose,” said Elisabeth Antoine-Konig, artefacts department curator.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace sculpture stands at the top of a staircase in a deserted Louvre museum in Paris
The Winged Victory of Samothrace sculpture stands at the top of a staircase in a deserted Louvre (Thibault Camus/AP)
The Venus of Milo sculpture, background, is lit by a ray of light in the Louvre museum in Paris
The Venus of Milo sculpture, background, is lit by a ray of light in the Louvre (Thibault Camus/AP)

“Visitors will be happy to see again these now well-lit rooms with polished floors and remodelled display cases.”

Initially, only visitors with pre-booked reservations will be granted entry in line with virus safety precautions.

Those who cannot wait are still able to see the Louvre’s treasure trove of art in virtual tours online.

By Press Association