What Really Happened When The Mona Lisa Was Attacked

The “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci is the most famous painting in the world, with thousands scrambling to get a look at the portrait every day inside the world-renowned Louvre Museum in Paris. A priceless work of art that has enraptured the public for centuries, the painting has also gone on its fair share of adventures, which only adds to its mystique and popularity. Today, visitors to the Louvre must observe the slight smile of “La Joconde” through a bulletproof glass case — a direct consequence of the attacks on the legendary work of art over the decades.

According to Mental Floss, the painting was damaged twice in 1956. On one occasion, Ugo Ungaza Villegas, a Bolivian, hurled a rock at da Vinci’s masterpiece, chipping a speck of pigment off of the picture. This attack came just months after a woman attempted to throw acid on the portrait, hitting the lower sections. These incidents prompted the Louvre to place bulletproof glass around the “Mona Lisa,” which would come to save the painting on two more occasions over the decades to come.

The Mona Lisa was nearly mugged

Ugo Ungaza Villegas’ vandalism alerted Louvre workers that the glass case surrounding the “Mona Lisa” was obviously not strong enough to keep future vandals out. Notably, the Bolivian’s stone broke through and still had enough force to damage the painting at the portrait’s left elbow, which was subsequently painted over. The protective casing shielded the painting on at least two further occasions after its eventful year in 1956. In 1976, when the painting was on loan to the Tokyo National Museum, a disabled woman sprayed red paint on the case to protest an ableist policy that refused disabled people from viewing the masterpiece (via the Sarasota Herald-Tribune).

The most recent attack on the world’s most famous painting came in 2009 when an unnamed Russian visitor threw a ceramic mug at the “Mona Lisa.” The culprit was reportedly upset over being refused French citizenship (via The Guardian). The mug, which was apparently bought at the Louvre’s gift shop, shattered against the bulletproof glass case. The case was so strong that the floor merely had to be swept, and the viewing room wasn’t even closed after the attempted vandal was apprehended. No one else has tried to damage the masterpiece in the years since, although the painting’s global popularity certainly makes it a target.