Author(s): Gerri Chanel
In late August 1939, as war loomed over Europe, curators at the Louvre nestled the world's most famous painting into a special red velvet-lined case and spirited her away to the Loire Valley. Thus began the biggest evacuation of art and antiquities in history. A small army of workers swiftly emptied the Louvre's cavernous galleries of all but the most cumbersome and fragile pieces and tucked away the displaced treasures in the chateaux of the Loire countryside. As the Germans neared Paris in 1940, the French raced to move the masterpieces still further south, then again and again during the war, crisscrossing the southwest of France. At times, Mona Lisa slept at the bedside of curators who were painfully aware of their heavy responsibility. Throughout the German occupation, the Louvre's staff fought to keep the priceless treasures out of the hands of Hitler and his henchmen and to keep the Louvre palace safe, many of them risking their jobs and their lives to protect the country's artistic heritage. Saving Mona Lisa is the sweeping, suspenseful narrative of their battle. Superbly researched and accompanied by riveting photographs of the period, it is a compelling story of art and beauty, intrigue and ingenuity, and remarkable moral courage in the face of one of the most fearful enemies in history.