Paintings in the Louvre a dime a dozen?

How else can you explain the lax security and protection provided for the individual works of art?
Please excuse my ignorance as there is probably a perfectly good explaination.
Anyways, what baffles me is how they can just leave their paintings completely exposed like that. Those paintings must be worth tens or hundreds of millions yet I could just walk up and touch it if I wanted to. Example: The Medusa by David or The Wedding in Verona (Like 40 feet high. largest in the louvre). I was eye level with the painting. No velvet ropes, no security guards. I could’ve just sneezed and ruined the bottom corner of one of the most incredible paintings of all time.

I’ve heard the masters often had students who were quite capable of reproducing the works and sometimes multiples were commissioned…but the Verona was huge!!! I can’t imagine there being more than 1 in the entire world. bottom line. Am i enjoying the actual painting by the original artist or am i enjoying an equally impressive piece of work by an imposter. (while the real one is tucked away in a nuclear bunker somewhere)

Please paraphrase if the question if it’s too long to post…please post this. if not, just a quick answer. i gotta know. it’s killing me!!!

Thanks in advance.
Toronto, Canada

some works of art which are considered controversial and in danger of being attacked are indeed protected by bulltproof glass but this detracts from the observational experience so …
yes, once in a while a madman attacks a work of art (as happened to the Pieta some years back) and damages it. Short of the glass I do not think a velvet rope would prevent much…

I’ve been to the Louvre 3 times, and the British Museum twice. They are the same w.r.t. security, and I wonder why myself. I did notice at the Louvre that some paintings that looked like they were completely unprotected were actually under a very thin, very clear sheet of glass (or plastic, I didn’t test), that was not noticable until you got right up to it. The glass was just over the canvas, not the frame.

Most ugly Americans in the British Museum : the two teenaged boys who posed for a photo on either side of a statue of Aphrodite, each one copping a marble feel. And the guards didn’t do a thing!

I was at a museum once… there were oil paintings on the walls but no masterpieces, so as a museum-goer I felt no super, ultra-high need to be cautious around the art.

I casually went up to one of these paintings and pointed out a detail to a friend (of course, with no intention of actually touching the canvas). As my finger approached to about 4 to 8 inches of the canvas, an alarm sounded. I was amazed that it was I who triggered the alarm; there was no sensor in sight nor anything that hinted at a protective “force field” in front of the canvas. The guard that appeared saw that I meant no harm, shut the alarm, and told me to be careful about getting too close to the paintings.

Bottom line: Maybe your masterpieces are not quite as unguarded as you think. Granted the museum security probably can’t detect your long-disance sneeze, or even stop you from a sudden, violent act of vandalism, but maybe they can discourage the casual destructive stuff that most teenagers think of as harmless.

A couple of weeks ago a man visiting the Minneapolis Institute of Art ignored the warning sings and the rope, sat in a Ming chair, and broke it. It split down the middle.

The MIA is not in the same league as, say, the National Gallery or the Louvre, but it does have some priceless works of art. The chair was one of 5 or 6 or 8 in the world.

I was quite unimpressed with a) the conduct of the visitor; and b) the lack of security.

I’ve wondered the same thing myself, and I’ve had conflicting experiences with works of art. Several years ago, the National Gallery had a da Vinci exhibit. I don’t remember which particular piece it was, but I did the same thing as stuyguy, that is, pointing out a detail to a friend. The painting had glass in front of it, so there was no danger of my touching it. However, an armed guard appeared from nowhere, and I was told in no uncertain terms that I should go find something else to do. :slight_smile: I’m sure there is constant video coverage of every single square inch of those buildings, and there must be quite a few guards as well, but on a different trip there, I, uh, actually touched a Monet. Yes, I was 16 at the time, and I love his Bridge at Arguentil series. I wouldn’t do it again, but it was amazing at the time. Anyways, nothing happened. No alarms, no guards, nada. Assuming that all these paintings aren’t fakes, museums are one of the few places that I’d like to see more security. I saw ten times the number of guards, cameras, and metal detectors just getting my passport!

The main reason why paintings aren’t put behind glass is that it interferes with viewing the painting. You end up seeing reflections instead of the painting. Putting paintings behind glass is extremely unpopular with artists, critics, and the museum-going public. Most museum curators hate it too, although they will often (reluctantly) use glass to protect their most valuable works.

BTW, I read about the incident of the Ming chair, it didn’t happen like you described it. The chair was marked as an exhibit but it was not roped off. The guy just thought it was a place to sit. The chair did crack, but it cracked along a spot where it had already cracked and been repaired once before. The piece was not destroyed and did not suffer any damage beyond what had already been repaired once. It is being repaired again and will be back on display eventually. The museum didn’t seem to be very mad at the guy, it was obviously an innocent mistake, although a horrible one.

If you want to hear some REAL horror stories, you should read The Art Newspaper (that’s where I read about the incident with the chair). A recent issue had an article about a museum that was photographing some of its collection, including a rare glass vase that is one of the earliest intact examples of glassblowing, it must date back to early greek or etruscan times (I forget the exact info). The vase was taken from the display to a back room for photography, where it was handled with cotton gloves to prevent damage from oily fingerprints. After photographing the work (which was estimated at around $10million) it slipped from the museum employee’s gloved hands and he DROPPED it to the floor, shattering it into tiny pieces. It cannot be restored.

Have been to the MIA. Have seen the Ming chair. The delineation between the exhibit halls and the “lobby” areas is quite distinct. The chair is obviously part of the Asian exhibit. How one could miss the “do not sit” signs is beyond me.

Horrible about the vase…can easily see that happening to me.

I was at the British Museum a few years ago. There’s statues and stuff lying uprotected all over the place, some of which were unmarked and quite ugly. So anyways (ugly American story coming) There was this statue of an ugly lion-type thing that looked decidedly like something functional rather than art, so I asked my cousin to get up to it so I could get a picture of it. Much to my surprise, he leans up against. Well, I took the picture. It’s nice - you can see the security guard coming over to escort him away from it.

IIRC, the Rosetta Stone was simply roped off there, barely even described. There weren’t even many people over by it, there were more by the mummies. Hello, it’s the goddamned ROSETTA STONE! I tell you, some people have no appreciation for history…

Have you ever asked yourself what’s the big deal about the Mona Lisa? It looks like dozens of other formal portraits of the era. And don’t say the smile. That logic came after the fame.

I think it’s that logic error pointed out by Robin Williams’ character in Dead Poets Society, where he fights the notion that if you take the best poet and the best book of poetry and find the intersection, that will be the best poem.

In this case, the parallel intersection is of the most celebrated genius and the most expensive collection of art.

Does that mean it’s Leonardo da Vinci’s best work?
No. Just his best work there.

Does it mean the painting is the best thing in the Louvre?
No. Just the one by the most celebrated genius.

So am I saying the best da Vinci is something else?
Yes, I’d say most of his paintings were superior.

I was there when the Rosetta Stone was just roped off. Children were running their sticky little fingers all over the characters, and I noticed some of the stone was badly worn. A bored looking guard was just sitting there, not doing a thing. I was horrified.

THEN, when I went back to the BM in October last year, I found out that the stone that had been on display was just a copy, and the real one was safely tucked away. The real one was behind a glass display in a special multi-room exhibit they were running at the time. So I felt better.

Hm, when I was at the British Museum in fall 1998, I am positive that the Rosetta Stone I saw was the actual thing. I happened to run into a tour group as I reached that particular spot, and listened to the guide discussing its translation. In no way did he lead me to believe that it was not the genuine Rosetta Stone. I did reach out and lightly touch it, but not over any letters. I’m a kinetic person, I just wanted to feel the rock.

Anyone know if they have changed it since then?

It was widely celebrated as a triumph of painting before the Louvre galleries got their hands on it. See Cecil’s column Why is the Mona Lisa so famous?

It would not surprise me if the British Museum tour guides were not particularly forthcoming about the authenticity of the Rosetta Stone display. It’s not uncommon, especially in an educational display, to exhibit casts, replicas, or just substitute one artifact for another. Did anyone catch the “America’s Smithsonian” Exhibit and read the fine print on the card for Lincoln’s stovepipe hat. The hat on display was a hat of the same type and vintage that Lincoln wore – but the one on display was never owned by Lincoln.

I get the idea that the curatorial profession is moving away from the idea that the genuine artifact has a mysterious power above any copies and that to present a replica is some sort of moral crime. Instead they see their first mission to protect and conserve the historical artifact and to present the public with the best information and context availiable to learn about it. I can see their point, and I can also see that visitors might get a little more strenuous in their displeasure if that fact were publicised. Authenticity is a value that comes in and out of style; although to my mind, truthful presentation is always worthwhile.

Oops, that was Dex’s column, not Cecil’s.

I remember hearing about this and laughing because chairs breaking are one of those classic slapstick-ey gags. Also, if I recall, he hadn’t really broken the chair, it had been broken two or three times before and merely glued back together. Still, not a good idea to sit on an ancient chair.

Art is worthless if it is hidden under six layers of kevlar in some back room somewhere. Art that is not optimally viewd is hardly worth viewing at all. I saw the Pieta fifteen feet back and past layer upon layer of glass. The church down the street, however, has an unprotected Michalangelo that offers a far more sublime viewing experience.
As has been mentioned before, there is plenty of unobtrusive security that protects without destroying the viewing experiance. What gets me is the little churches sprinkled all over Europe that have priceless art in them, but no more security than your average neighborhood church.

I think we would call it the honor system. For some reason we on this side of the pond appear to have a much greater need to pilfer and desecrate. - and I think it’s almost cyclical. The more accustomed one is to seeing everything under lock and key, the more you think about snatching the things that aren’t. I’ve even heard people say they’d “borrow” an unlocked bicycle “just to teach that idiot a lesson” - A lesson that might be useless if no one was going to steal just because they could.

If you really want a treat, hurry over to the Hermitage. They have some phenomenal paintings hanging unprotected within easy reach protected only by a hunched-over babushka dozing in a folding metal chair in the corner. When I say hurry, I mean it, though, because many of them are also in direct sunlight – which is ideal viewing for those impressionist views of gardens and harbors, although it does tend to shorten the life of the image.

They have not one but two of Leonardo’s panels as well.