PARIS (AP) – Mona Lisa, 518, has seen many things in her life on a wall, but rarely this: almost four months without visits to the Louvre.
As you gaze through bulletproof glass onto the silent Salle des Etats, in what was once the most visited museum in the world, your celebrated smile could almost denote relief. A little further on, the white marble Venus de Milo is free from its belt of photo-taking visitors for once.
It is unclear when the Paris museum will reopen, after being closed on October 30 in accordance with the French government’s virus containment measures. But those who are lucky enough to benefit from a rare private look at collections that cover 9,000 years of human history, with plenty of room to breathe.
That’s something normally lacking in a museum that is ruined by its own success: Before the pandemic, staff would walk away complaining they couldn’t handle overcrowding, with as many as 30,000-40,000 visitors a day.
The forced closure has also provided museum officials with a golden opportunity to carry out long-delayed renovations that were simply not possible with nearly 10 million visitors a year.
Unlike the first closure, which paralyzed all activities of the Louvre, in the second, some 250 museum employees remained fully operational.
An army of curators, restorers and workers are cleaning up sculptures, rearranging artifacts, checking inventories, rearranging entrances and carrying out restorations, including in the Egyptian Wing and the Grande Galerie, the largest room in the museum that is being completely renovated.
“We took advantage of the museum’s closure to carry out a series of important works, speed up maintenance operations and initiate repair work that is difficult to schedule when the museum is operating normally”, Laurent le Guedart, Architectural heritage and gardens of the Louvre director told AP from inside the Grande Galerie.
As le Guedart spoke, restorers stood on scaffolding taking scientific probes from the walls in preparation for a planned restoration, traveling back to the 18th century through layer after layer of paint.
Around the corner, the sound of carpenters lifting boards off the floor was barely audible. They were laying the cables for a new security system.
Previously, these jobs could only be done on Tuesdays, the only closed day of the week at the Louvre. Now hammers are pounding, machines are drilling, and brushes are scrubbing at a full week’s schedule, slowed only slightly by social distancing measures.
In all, ten large-scale projects that have been on hold since last March are underway and progressing rapidly.
This includes works in the Etruscan and Italian rooms, and the golden Carre Room. A major restoration of the ancient Egyptian chapel of Akhethotep’s tomb from 2400 BC is also underway. C.
“When the museum reopens, everything will be perfect for its visitors; this Sleeping Beauty will have had time to powder her nose, ”said Elisabeth Antoine-Konig, curator of the Department of Artifacts. “Visitors will be happy to see again these now well-lit rooms with polished floors and remodeled display cabinets.”
Initially, only visitors with reservations booked in advance will be allowed entry in accordance with virus security precautions.
Those who can’t wait can still see the Louvre’s art treasure on virtual tours online..
Adamson reported from Leeds, England
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