The world's most celebrated and gawped-at painting hangs at present behind bullet-proof glass in a gallery crowded with other 16th-century Italian masterpieces in the Louvre in Paris. At the height of the tourist season, you have to snatch a look at her famous half-smile through a hedge of rucksacks.
The museum confirmed yesterday that plans were advanced to segregate the Leonard da Vinci masterpiece from her fellow Italians and give her a small gallery of her own. The Louvre adamantly denied speculation in the art world that, in readiness for the move, the Mona Lisa would be restored. "Our proposal concerns only the presentation of the painting. It has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with restoration," said the museum's spokesman, Christophe Monin, yesterday.
There have been reports that an unknown Japanese company intends to provide pounds 25m for the project. Since this seemed well-beyond the price of a single room, even in Paris, there was speculation that the price would also cover restoration of the picture
Some art experts believe that the painting, darkened by the passage of time and the accretion of dirt and dust, would benefit from modern restorative techniques. Others insist that Da Vinci's brush-work is so delicate it cannot be restored without being ruined.
The museum said yesterday, that the total cost of the project was actually pounds 4m: just enough to create a special gallery, not enough to attempt a restoration. The re-siting of the Mona Lisa would provide one of the finishing touches to the pounds 600m expansion and redesign of the Louvre over the last 16 years, which has created one of the largest, and most modern, art museums in the world.