PARIS • The world's most famous painting, Mona Lisa, is to be moved so her room in the Louvre can be spruced up, the Paris museum said last Friday.
Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece will be carried less than "100 paces" to the adjoining Medici gallery during the night of July 16, said the museum's director Jean-Luc Martinez.
The fragile 500-year-old painting is very rarely handled and will remain protected by bulletproof glass in its temporary home.
The portrait of a Florentine noble will be returned to her spot in the States Room just before a blockbuster da Vinci exhibition opens at the world's biggest museum in October. The Louvre holds the largest collection of the Italian artist's work.
Mr Martinez said the move was part of an immense rolling renovation of the museum, which is struggling to cope with more than 10 million visitors a year.
Tens of thousands of people each day pass through the room in which the painting is shown opposite Italian Renaissance painter Paolo Veronese's giant canvas, The Wedding Feast At Cana.
It has been sealed inside protective wooden shuttering while the work goes on.
Mr Martinez said "the population of a town" passes every day through the room, which has not been redecorated since the early 2000s.
He said the Mona Lisa will stay in its original place for the da Vinci show - which begins on Oct 24 - as hanging it with the polymath's other works would have caused such bottlenecks that visitor numbers would have to be limited.
The painting, thought to have been begun in the first years of the 16th century, has been moved very rarely since it was first housed in the Louvre in 1804. Indeed, it has not left its walls in 45 years and curators are strongly opposed to it doing so again, citing its fragility.
The painting was done on a thin panel of poplar, which has buckled over time, revealing a thin slit.
It last travelled in 1974 to Russia and Japan, having crossed the Atlantic in 1964 to be shown in the United States despite the fierce protests of the Louvre's curators.
France's last culture minister, Ms Francoise Nyssen, had hinted that it might tour during the refurbishment work.
Locals in Lens, a former mining town in the north of France which houses an outpost of the Louvre, campaigned for the Mona Lisa to be exhibited there. Her home town Florence has also pleaded for the painting to be shown there.
But the request was rejected. France may not have entirely forgotten that in 1911, an Italian carpenter stole the canvas while working at the Louvre, smuggling it out under his overalls.
Vincenzo Perugia wanted to bring her back to her homeland, thinking mistakenly that she had been looted by French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte, like so many other Italian masterworks in the Louvre's vast collection.
The painting resurfaced in Florence two years later. In fact, da Vinci had taken the painting with him to France and finished it there in 1516, three years before his death.