It’s uncertain when Paris’ Louvre Museum will reopen. It closed October 30, 2020, because of the French government’s virus containment measures. Those who are allowed in receive a rare private look at collections covering thousands of years of human history—with plenty of space to breathe.
Space is normally sorely lacking at the world’s most-visited museum. Before the pandemic, staff walked out. They claimed they couldn’t handle the overcrowding, with up to 30,000-40,000 visitors per day. In some ways, the Louvre has been hurt by its own success.
The Mona Lisa’s celebrated smile is 518 years old. She stares out through bulletproof glass into a silent hall in the Louvre. A bit further on, the white marble Venus de Milo stands alone. She is completely free from picture-snapping visitors. These artistic treasures have seen many things, but they’ve rarely observed this: almost four months with no visitors.
The forced closure has granted museum officials a golden opportunity to carry out long-overdue restorations that were simply not possible with nearly 10 million annual visitors.
Unlike during the first lockdown, which brought all Louvre activities to a halt, the second has kept 250 museum staff members fully employed with restorative operations.
An army of curators, restorers, and workers are cleaning sculptures, reordering artifacts, checking inventories, reorganizing entrances, and conducting restorations, including in the Egyptian Wing. The Grande Galerie, the museum’s largest hall, is being fully renovated.
“We’re taking advantage of the museum’s closure to carry out a number of major works, speed up maintenance operations, and start repair works that are difficult to schedule when the museum is operating normally,” says Laurent le Guedart, the Louvre’s Architectural Heritage and Gardens Director.
Restorers stand atop scaffolds to take scientific probes of the walls in preparation for a planned restoration. The probes will travel back to the 18th century through layer after layer of paint.
Around the corner, carpenters take up floorboards to run cables for a new security system.
Previously, these jobs could be done only on a Tuesday. That’s the day the Louvre is closed. Now hammers are tapping, machines drilling, and brushes scrubbing to a full-week schedule. They are slowed down only slightly by social distancing measures.
In total, 10 large-scale projects that had been on hold since last March are under way—and progressing quickly. These include works in the Etruscan and Italian Halls and the gilded Salon Carre. A major restoration of the ancient Egyptian chapel of the tomb of Akhethotep from 2,400 B.C. is also underway.
“When the museum reopens, everything will be perfect for its visitors—this Sleeping Beauty will have had the time to powder her nose,” says Elisabeth Antoine-Konig, Artifacts Department Curator. “Visitors will be happy to see again these now well-lit rooms with polished floors and remodeled display cases.”
Initially, only visitors with pre-booked reservations will be granted entry in line with virus safety measures. Those who don’t want to wait may still view the Louvre’s art treasure trove in virtual tours online.
(Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa hangs on the wall in a deserted Louvre museum in Paris, France, on Thursday, February 11, 2021. AP/Thibault Camus)