Unpacking Mona Lisa at the end of World War II, 1945
Hitler and his cronies had a wish list of works they planned to plunder from the countries they invaded, and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the most famous painting in the world then and now, was at the top of the list. It was Jacques Jaujard, director of France’s National Museums, who thwarted Hitler’s scheme, pulled the wool over the eyes of the collaborationist tools of the Vichy government, and kept the Louvre’s contents, including the Mona Lisa, safe for the duration of the war.
On 25 August 1939, the Louvre was closed for 3 days, officially for repairs. However, much of the Louvre art collection was hauled on trucks (203 vehicles transporting 1862 wooden cases) and sent to Château de Chambord. The crates had a marking to identify the importance of the art pieces they contained: a yellow circle for very valuable art pieces, green for major works and red for world treasures (the Mona Lisa was marked with three red circles).
Throughout the war, the art pieces were clandestinely moved from chateau to chateau to avoid being taken back by the Nazis. For example, the Mona Lisa was moved from Chambord to several castles and abbeys, to finish at the end of the war at the Musée Ingres in Montauban