Securing a brief encounter with Paris’ most famous lady has never been an easy affair.
Now, however, visitors will wait less and be able to squeeze a few seconds of “one-on-one” face time with that enigmatic smile.
That, at least, is the claim of the Louvre museum.
The Mona Lisa, Leonardo Da Vinci’s miniature masterpiece, returned to its rightful place in the museum’s Salle des États on Monday after a ten-month spring clean that saw it placed in the Galerie Médicis.
In the first such overhaul in 15 years, the world’s most visited tableau now gazes out through a new glass cover which “enhances transparency thanks to the latest anti-reflective technology while improving security”.
The walls behind the frame have also changed colour from eggshell yellow to midnight blue.
Meanwhile, a new queuing system promises shorter waiting times and a more intimate experience with Leonardo’s celebrated oil-on-poplar painting, the museum insists.
Despite the hordes of tourists, the wait was refreshingly short for those wishing to stand directly in front of Leonardo’s mysterious maiden.
But given the sea of selfies, intimacy was hardly the word that sprung to mind.
“This is my first time. I only had to queue for 10 minutes. I’ve already been in the Louvre for two hours and will stay another two, so ten minutes for the Mona Lisa isn’t much,” said Alek Radomski, 32, from Poland.
He added: “But I’m shocked at people’s attitude because most don’t look at the picture, they take pictures.”
“As for the painting, it’s perfect. From wherever I looked, the front or right or left, she kept looking at me.”
Within 30 seconds or so, a guard had waved him and a group of Chinese visitors on.
“Small painting, big crowd,” said Justin, a Canadian tourist.
His friend Lyn, another Canadian, said she remembered getting much closer when visiting in the 1980s. Now you are kept at least three metres away.
“I feel a bit distracted by all the selfies. It feels more like it’s about everybody else’s moment than it is about the painting,” she said.
The Louvre confessed that previous queue management had created “congestion near the work making it sometimes difficult to get away”.
“Only the tallest or most persevering managed to get to the painting,” it admitted.
“The visual obstacles due to the large number of visitors” and their close proximity “reduced the quality of the visit experience.”
The world’s most visited museum attracts 10.2 million people a year with about 80 per cent believed to come just to see the Mona Lisa. In July, officials had to restrict access for three days because of the chaos caused by the queues.
In its temporary home before the move, tourists fumed at being herded like “cattle” for up to two hours for a 30-second glimpse from three metres in Trip Advisor rants.
Only last week, one wrote: “As much as we wanted to see the Mona Lisa it just wasn’t worth the grief. My advice is make do with the prints.”
“I’d never seen anything like it in 30 years working as a guide,” said Véronique Gebin, a Louvre guide, who welcomed the new set-up.
As of Monday, however, the 30,000-odd visitors a day arrive via “two winding queues” rather than two straight lines in a V shape that, one Louvre official admitted, Coralie James, turned the experience into a “bun fight”.
“Today it appears to be working well, despite the fact it’s a Monday, when there are usually lots of people because the Louvre is shut on Tuesday. But the real test will be in peak times such as July,” said Ms Gebin.
The guide welcomed the blue colour change and new lighting, which the Louvres said added “depth” to the room and enhanced the “splendour of the frames and the chromatic palette of the paintings” of the Venetian school.
The Mona Lisa still hangs opposite Veronese’s Wedding Feast at Cana but the museography of the 41 other Venetian and Florentine Renaissance works has been altered to offer a contrast of “spectacular” and more “intimate” paintings.
The last time the Salle des Etats was given a spring clean was in 2005, when major renovation saw it shut for four years.
“It’s had 100 million people pass through the room since then so a little work was needed”, said Ms James