The ‘Mona Lisa’ Soup Protest, Explained

Arts & Celebrities

The protective glass of the Mona Lisa has been splattered with soup thrown by protesters, the latest in a line of controversial climate change protests that target famous works of art.

What Happened To The Mona Lisa?

In central Paris on Sunday, two female protesters wearing T-shirts that read “Riposte Alimentaire” (Food Counterattack) entered the Louvre and threw pumpkin soup over the Mona Lisa.

In a video of the stunt posted on X (Twitter), the two protesters stand in front of the iconic Leonardo da Vinci painting and call for the right to “healthy and sustainable food,” describing the agricultural system as “sick.”

Museum security can be seen placing black screens in front of the protesters before clearing the room.

A group called Riposte Alimentaire (Food Counterattack) claimed responsibility for the stunt, which follows a wave of protests by French farmers across the country.

Was The Mona Lisa Damaged By The Soup?

No. The painting is protected by bulletproof glass and was not damaged by the pumpkin soup splatter.

However, this didn’t stop outraged commentators from criticizing the stunt. Rachida Dati, France’s Minister for Culture, said “no cause” could justify the Mona Lisa being targeted.

“Like our heritage [the painting] belongs to future generations,” she said on X.

While many commentators expressed outrage at the stunt, others were more sympathetic, pointing out that climate change protesters have good reason to resort to attention-grabbing acts.

Why Are Activists Targeting Paintings?

The Mona Lisa pumpkin soup splatter follows a trend of similar stunts, with environmental protesters seeking attention-grabbing targets.

Two young climate activists representing the climate group “Just Stop Oil” threw a can of tomato soup over the protective glass of Van Gogh’s famous painting, Sunflowers, sparking outrage.

This was followed by a protest associated with the German group Letzte Generation (Last Generation), as activists threw mashed potatoes on Grainstacks by Claude Monet.

Climate protesters across the U.K., Germany, and Italy have glued themselves to famous artworks, such as Sandro Botticelli’s Primavera, and Thunderscape With Pyramus and Thisbe by Nicolas Poussin.

While the protests have proved deeply controversial, it should be noted that the targeted art works have not been damaged by the protests.

Protesters seek to draw attention to environmental damage, economic inequality and the incoming climate catastrophe by appearing to damage precious works of art; the stunts highlight the media attention given to valuable paintings over the well-being of our own planet.

Has The Mona Lisa Been Attacked Before?

Yes, several times.

The Mona Lisa has been protected behind safety glass ever since a visitor damaged the painting by pouring acid on it in 1956. That same year, the attack was followed by another visitor hurling a rock at the Mona Lisa.

In 1974, the Mona Lisa was sprayed with red paint while on display at the Tokyo National Museum, as a protest against the museum’s lack of access for disabled people. In 2009, a visitor threw a teacup at the painting, shattering the protective glass — in both cases, the Mona Lisa was unharmed.

In 2019, the Louvre upgraded the Mona Lisa’s protective casing to a more transparent type of bulletproof glass. In 2022, an environmental activist threw cake at the Mona Lisa in a similar stunt, urging bystanders to “think of the Earth”.

Ironically, much of the reason the Mona Lisa is considered iconic is because it was stolen from the Louvre in 1911 by museum employee Vincenzo Peruggia, who believed that the painting belonged to Italy.

The Mona Lisa was recovered two years later after the patriotic thief attempted to sell the 500-year old painting to an antiques dealer in Florence, Italy.

The theft sparked popular interest in the painting and inspired many pop culture depictions, turning the masterpiece into an icon — and a popular target for protesters.


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