The Most Important Woman in Paris
This week I’ve been strolling through the leafy streets of Paris as springtime plucks up the courage to say bonjour. I don’t need to explain that France is a country that takes great pride in, well, itself. French art, food, wine and style are all matters of national identity (the government expects its cuisine to get UNESCO World Heritage status, after all.)
Yet today I realised that the most important woman in the ultimate French city is Italian. And I don’t mean Carla Bruni.
She lives in one of the city’s most magnificent buildings, with her own security system, conspiracy plot, teasingly rich history and queues upon queues of adoring fans. I mean, of course, La Jaconde, the woman from Florence who has smiled at the paparazzi for more than five hundred years. Mona Lisa.
Her creator, Da Vinci, escorted her from Florence to Milan and then on to Rome before exchanging her for 4 000 gold coins in France.
In 1911, Vincenzo Perugia succeeded in whisking her away from the Louvre, with the alleged aim of restoring her to her homeland. Yet the authorities were unconvinced and soon the lady with the smile was back in Paris, while Perugia went to jail.
Today, more than 6 million people visit the Louvre, itself a stunning combination of Renaissance architecture and giant glass pyramids. Yet despite more than 35 000 works of art from around the globe, most visitors know who they’ve come to see.
So is she worth it? You’ll have to visit and make up your own mind.