Faulty sprinkler threatened Leonardo’s Monna Lisa

mlIn 1963, the most famous painting in the world, the Leonardo da Vinci’s Monna Lisa, narrowly missed a catastrophe  when it was on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, after having  left the Louvre in Paris for its first trip to the US. All possible precautions were taken for the painting’s safekeeping. It was transported across the Atlantic aboard the SS France in a waterproof crate designed to float if the luxury liner sank.
On 7 February, the portrait went on show at the Metropolitan Museum in New York to be seen by more than one million visitors in just a few weeks.
It was at the Metropolitan that the painting narrowly escaped severe damage one night, when a sprinkler malfunctioned, splashing water on the Mona Lisa for several hours.
In 1963, Dr Hoving (former director of the Metropolitan Museum) was a curator in the Metropolitan Museum’s medieval department. When he arrived at the museum before it opened one morning, he rushed to the secure storeroom where the painting was locked up at night, in order to check on an English 12th-century ivory cross he had recently purchased for the institution.
“I dashed to the [storeroom] to study my gorgeous acquisition, only to find that Murray Pease, the head of the conservation studio, and his assistant Kate Lefferts, [and] the officials from the Louvre in charge of the Leonardo portrait were rushing around with towels,” writes Dr Hoving.
“No one ever discovered why, but some time during the night one of the fire sprinklers in the ceiling broke its glass ampoule and the masterpiece of painting and the masterwork of ivory carving had both been…rained upon,” he adds.
Guards monitoring the Mona Lisa on a black-and-white monitor outside the storeroom could not see the water on their grainy screen.
“The Mona Lisa, according to the Louvre official, was ok…He told me that the thick glass covering it had acted like an effective…raincoat. The rainstorm was never mentioned to the outside world.” The Metropolitan Museum declined to comment on the incident.
Henry Gentle, a London-based private picture restorer, said damage to the painting could have been serious if it had not been protected by glass. “The paint could have swelled off [the panel] and become unstable. It really would have depended on the painting itself, whether it was protected by a strong varnish or not, and how long the water was dribbling on the surface.”

4 Replies to “Faulty sprinkler threatened Leonardo’s Monna Lisa”

  1. Wow, it’s ridiculous how insecure the world’s most famous painting is. I am surprised to see it is not kept in a waterproof container, to be honest. They definitely need to increase security around this masterpiece. The world cannot afford to lose it right now.

  2. Can you imagine if the painting had been damaged or worse yet ruined?

    There would have to be a modern day beheading or some form of blood letting as just firing people would not likely be enough

  3. Oh wow! Is this really true? Did heads fall off when this was discovered? The Metropolitan Museum would have been in deep deep dung had they been responsible for the Mona Lisa’s ruin! I assume they have since changed the Mona Lisa’s frame after the incident?

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