The Telegraph (UK) reports that Louvre officials have denied an Italian quest to send the Mona Lisa on a temporary sojourn to Florence, where the masterpiece was painted 500 years ago. Art historian Silvano Vinceti spearheaded the effort, hoping to gather 100,000 signatures in support of the loan.
Not surprisingly, Louvre officials immediately rejected the idea of transferring the most important and famous work in the museum’s collection. The Telegraph cites Vincent Pomarede of the Louvre, who argued that “any attempt to move the painting would cause incalculable damage — it’s just not worth the risk. It is in an extremely fragile condition and it is unthinkable that it would be moved from the gallery.”
Pomarede surely makes a valid point, but is the painting’s fragility the only reason for this quick reaction? The Mona Lisa now symbolizes the Louvre, touted as the world’s finest museum of art–all art. Italian, Greek, Egyptian, Dutch, French. The painting’s theft in 1911 and displacement to storage locations in Loire Valley chateaux during the Second World War serve as reminders that the Mona Lisa survived significant threats in the last century. French officials will ensure that this key component of the patrimoine national is shielded from additional risks.
For the forseeable future, touring days in Italy and France are over for La Joconde–or is it La Gioconda?
On the evacuation of French museum collections during the Second World War, see Karlsgodt, Defending National Treasures: French Art and Heritage under Vichy (Stanford UP, 2011).
In statements this week, NATO officials were not willing to rule out airstrikes on the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Leptis Magna, where it is rumored that Gadhafi is storing rocket launchers. One official who declined to provide his name stated, “we will strike military vehicles, military forces, military equipment or military infrastructure that threaten Libyan civilians as necessary.” Wing Commander and NATO spokesman Mike Bracken of the British Royal Air Force later remarked rather ambiguously that “if we were to take on any targets, we would consider all risks.”
On Tuesday, June 14, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, urged all parties to ensure the preservation of Leptis Magna and the Old Town of Ghadamès, also a World Heritage site, known as “the pearl of the desert.” Yesterday, June 16, the Archeological Institute of America (AIA) echoed this appeal by calling on Libya and the U.S.—not NATO—to protect the sites. In a statement on the AIA website, the organization’s CEO Peter Herdrich stated, “It is our shared responsibility as citizens of the world to be aware of the devastating loss that would result from the destruction of these sites. By bringing their value to light, we trust that neither side will be responsible for destroying our common heritage.”
Bokova had issued a similar appeal in March 2011 to encourage NATO members and Libya to respect the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. Eight members of the NATO coalition enforcing UN Resolution 1973 to protect Libyan civilians are party to the Convention: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Qatar, Spain and the United States—Britain is not. Article 4 of the Convention provides that contracting parties will refrain from “any use of the property and its immediate surroundings…for purposes which are likely to expose it to destruction or damage in the event of armed conflict….”
The United States Senate delayed ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention until 2008, and did so partly in reaction to worldwide condemnation of the George W. Bush administration’s failure to protect Iraqi sites and museums in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. As a party to the Convention, the United States has a moral responsibility to assert a leadership role within the NATO coalition, stating unequivocally that all efforts will be made to protect Libyan heritage sites.
 See Elizabeth Campbell Karlsgodt, Defending National Treasures: French Art and Heritage under Vichy (Stanford UP, 2011), 299.