1963 Archive: Mona Lisa in Lockdown

Asked by his countrymen why the Mona Lisa was lent to America for a 1963 exhibition, France’s Cultural Minister replied, “Because no other nation would have received her like the United States.”

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—“Mona Lisa” by John Skow, from the February 16, 1963, issue of The Saturday Evening Post

For most of last month, Leonardo’s celebrated portrait of Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo’s third wife hung in the National Gallery in Washington. There it was protected by: (1) a thick sheet of shatterproof glass across its surface, (2) a device that recorded and regulated temperature and humidity, (3) an American flag and a French flag, (4) a burgundy-colored silk rope to keep art lovers and their smudgy fingers at least 10 feet away, (5) six or eight Secret Service men in dark suits, (6) several of the museum’s own guards, and (7) two resplendently uniformed Marines, one on each side of the painting.

The Marines had rifles with fixed bayonets. The Secret Service men had no visible armament, but the stiffness of their movements indicated they were concealing antitank weapons. The museum guards were armed with chatter, which ran to “Keep the line moving.”

This article appears in the January/February 2023 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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