At Large  January 29, 2024  Rebecca Schiffman

Protesters Throw Soup on Leonardo da Vinci's 'Mona Lisa' at the Louvre Museum

VIa Riposte Alimentaire's website

Protesters from the activist group Riposte Alimentaire after splashing pumpkin soup on the famed Mona Lisa painting at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.

On Sunday morning, January 28, the famed Mona Lisa painting at the Louvre Museum was splattered with soup by activists. Thanks to the bulletproof glass that protects the painting, there was no damage done to the work. 

The action, which was carried out around 10am by two members of the group Riposte Alimentaire (which translates to "Food Response"), was, according to social media posts by the group, an attempt to draw attention to food insecurity in France.

According to its website, the activists were part of a larger group of protest organizations known as the A22 Network which, according to their declaration, works to “protect our generation and all future generations.” The network includes other organizations who have also resorted to attacking artworks to get their messages across, including Just Stop Oil, a group with activists who recently attacked Diego Velazquez's Rokeby Venus at London's National Gallery and have glued themselves to artworks in protest of the British oil industry.

In recent years, vandalism of art—as a means of garnering attention for a cause completely unrelated to art—has been on the rise with similar protests at museums raising ethical concerns about the role that art plays in the world and if these tactics are appropriate within the realm of advocacy. 

Riposte Alimentaire believes that the government is to blame for the climate and ecological crisis “through its allegiance to agro-industry and mass distribution” and that it “betrays our fundamental right to food, threatens our health, our food security, and the lives of farmers.”

French Culture Minister, Rachida Dati, responded via the platform X (formerly Twitter) condemning the protest. “The Mona Lisa, like our heritage, belongs to future generations," she wrote (as translated by Google translate). “No cause can justify it being targeted!”

This is not the first time the Mona Lisa has been vandalized. It was smeared with cake in 2022 and spray-painted in 1974 in Tokyo while on a global tour, among other incidents of vandalism.

In this incident on Sunday, after splashing pumpkin soup on the painting’s glass case, the protestors climbed over the protective rails and stood next to the work, their hands up in a salute. They then said in French, “What is more important? Art or the right to have a healthy and sustainable food system? Our agricultural system is sick.” The Louvre guards quickly escorted them out. 

The attack comes after the French government announced new measures to help farmers, who were already protesting. These new measures, according to the AP, did not fully address the farmers’ demands. In Paris, they began to protest as part of the farmer’s movement, in which they are demanding better pay for their produce, less regulations on their work, and protection against cheap imports. As part of the movement, farmers in Paris have barricaded major highways and roads, and dumped manure and waste in front of government buildings. 

But the Riposte Alimentaire group’s goals and their attack on the Mona Lisa does not seem to align with the farmer’s wishes. Instead, the group calls for committing to food needs of the community, respecting the planet and changing the agricultural model in light of climate change. The one goal both groups share is ensuring a dignified life for farmers. 

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