A richly detailed and thoroughly researched tale of the transportation and safekeeping of the Mona Lisa during World War II.
Nazis: who needs them? Definitely not the Mona Lisa, the beloved 15th century masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci that was carted away from the Louvre only days before World War II broke out between France and Germany. Considered one of the finest paintings in the world, not only for its masterful oil technique but also for the subtlety and beauty of the painting’s namesake subject, the travails of the Mona Lisa come to represent the plight of humanity itself in the face of unrelenting tyranny. With an exhaustively researched and artfully woven narrative of the Mona Lisa‘s journey through time and space, as well as background on the history of the Louvre and its curators, Chanel has created a historical work that serves as both a good read and an invaluable document for future generations.
Part of the joy of the book comes from Chanel’s explorations of the history of the countryside and the structures that the Mona Lisa travels to as it is carted in its specially built, velvet-lined storage container. She describes the life of the curators assigned to keeping it and hundreds of other paintings from the Louvre safe from the Nazis as one that “was half-aristocrat, half-vagabond.” The incidentals of wartime, from the scarcity of food to the constant uncertainty and fear of betrayal, crackle in the background as curators negotiate with the Vichy and German government for things like packing material and fuel for a convoy of trucks to move the paintings.
But the core of the book is ultimately a celebration of the remarkable power of art. Even Hitler respected the value and power of the Louvre’s collection. As Chanel details, “While Hitler had no qualms about violating many of the provisions of the Hague Convention–which prohibited seizure–he knew that an outright theft of the Louvre’s collection would create a major international outcry.”
Artfully interspersed with a series of lush, black and white period photos and boasting the extensive detail and emotional scope of a literary novel, SAVING MONA LISA immerses the reader into the ongoing battle to preserve both a specific masterpiece and the larger treasure of humanity.