On the eve of World War II, curators at the Louvre Museum in Paris undertook a feverish mission to protect and hide the world’s most priceless painting.
They carefully wrapped the Mona Lisa in layers of waterproof paper, boxed it up and shuttled the secret cargo to the French countryside for safekeeping. Leonardo da Vinci’s smiling maiden moved another five times during the war before she was brought, safe and sound, back to the Louvre.
Mona Lisa wasn’t alone. The secret operation began on September 3, 1939 and would continue for several months.
A few Greek maidens also received similar treatment by French museum officials and like secret agents working under the cover of darkness and against the clock— a 007-esque plan was hatched and implemented.
In all, thousands of pieces of art were taken to safe-houses far from the fighting. In addition to the Mona Lisa, it was the Greek goddesses that received the most special of treatment by the French.
Workers packed paintings into boxes and stored bronze and marble sculptures and statues into wooden crates and loaded them into convoys of trucks, ambulances or any moving vehicles they could find at that time that would ferry them to various chateaux across the country.
Perched on a pedestal of wooden moving crates, Venus de Milo was harnessed with cords around her slim marble waist and carefully loaded onto a truck for transport and hiding.
She was moved first to Chambord, then Louvigny, the Abbaye de Loc Dieu, the Musée de Montauban and finally to Montal, before returning home to the Louvre after the war.
Another of the Louvre’s Greek masterpieces, the 2nd century B.C. Winged Victory of Samothrace, was entangled in a web of ropes and dangled from an oversized pulley onto a massive crate and wheeled down a staircase on specially installed wooden planks.
She was sent to the Château de Valençay, away from the war zone and potential looting from the Nazis.