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How the ‘Mona Lisa’ Survived World War II

History By
FRANCE - APRIL 06: Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, Mona Lisa in her new setting in the refurbished Salle des Etats where the public was able to rediscover her in Paris, France on April 06th, 2005. (Photo by Raphael GAILLARDE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
(Raphael Gaillarde/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Many of our readers may not know who Jacques Jaujard is, but if you love art, you owe him some gratitude for keeping the Mona Lisa out of Nazi hands during WWII.

Jaujard, who was the director of France’s National Museums during that time, gets much of the credit for the survival of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece. Jaujard devised a coded system for organizing and hiding most of the Louvre’s collection, including all 3,600 paintings and the three-ton Winged Victory of Samothrace sculpture. He then had them all shipped to various rural châteaux, museums, and abbeys in France to keep them from being destroyed or stolen.

The Mona Lisa, then considered the world’s most famous painting and thus the most obvious target for theft, was moved five times over the course of the war. It was kept in a specially-marked, velvet-lined crate, and transported on a stretcher by ambulance and armored car, often at great personal risk to the drivers and attendants who made sure it arrived at each destination safely.

After the war ended, the Louvre, which had been kept open by the Nazis despite being mostly empty, was thoroughly renovated, with each gallery reopening as its paintings were restored. The Mona Lisa was among the works that returned there safely, thanks to the efforts of Jacques Jaujard and his co-conspirators.

To read more about the scheme, click here. To read about the successful theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911, click here.