By Roger Cohen
Two protesters from an environmental group hurled pumpkin-colored soup on the Mona Lisa at the Louvre museum in Paris on Sunday, splashing the bulletproof glass that protects the most famous painting in the world, but not apparently damaging the work.
As the customary crowd around the 16th-century painting by Leonardo da Vinci gasped in shock, the protesters, two young women, followed up their attack by passing under a barrier and standing on either side of the artwork, hands raised in an apparent salute.
“What is more important? Art or the right to have a healthy and sustainable food system?” the activists said, speaking in French. “Our agricultural system is sick.” They were led away by Louvre security guards.
It was not immediately clear how the women got the soup through the elaborate security system at the museum, which borders the Seine and contains a vast art and archaeological collection spanning civilizations and centuries.
One of the women removed her jacket to reveal the words Riposte Alimentaire, or Food Response, on a white T-shirt. Riposte Alimentaire is part of a coalition of protest groups known as the A22 movement. They include Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil, the group that poured tomato soup over Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers at the National Gallery in London in 2022.
The attack on the Mona Lisa came as French farmers have blocked roads, including approaches to Paris, in recent days to protest low wages and what they see as excessive regulation. Many new regulations in France reflect the attempt to forge a green, carbon-free European economy, an objective that the farmers consider too expensive and burdensome in the near term.
The protests by the two young women and the farmers appeared to reflect two starkly different views of agriculture and the appropriate priorities for European society.
Staff at the Louvre on Sunday tried to erect cloth screens to conceal the soup-splashed Mona Lisa, but the screens were not effective. Images of the attack quickly went viral on social media.
The Mona Lisa has been behind glass since the 1950s, when a visitor poured acid on it. In 2019, the museum installed glass of what it said was superior transparency. Three years later, another environmental activist threw cake and cream at the painting. It was undamaged.
The latest attack will heighten security concerns ahead of the Paris Olympics.
The opening ceremony is just six months away and will take place on the Seine. A flotilla of boats will carry about 10,000 athletes to the foot of the Eiffel Tower, as nearly 500,000 spectators, including many heads of state, line the 4-mile route. The boats will sail past the Louvre as part of a ceremony conceived to showcase the beauty of Paris, but which has raised serious security issues that are still under review.