The world’s most visited museum has broken its own attendance records for attendance to a single exhibition by almost double. The Louvre’s blockbuster Leonardo da Vinci retrospective, timed to the 500th anniversary of the Renaissance master’s death, brought in 1,071,840 visitors over the four months it was on view. This figure easily smashed its previous attendance record of 540,000 visitors, which was held by a 2018 Eugène Delacroix retrospective.
The exhibition, which was curated by Vincent Delieuvin and Louis Frank and was in the works for about 10 years, was expected to be popular. The museum required visitors to reserve specific time slots to see the show, and tickets became available a few months before its October opening. Just two weeks before the exhibition closed on Monday, February 24, the Louvre announced that to accommodate the massive demand it would offer 30,000 free tickets online for slots from 9 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. during the show’s closing weekend.
The historic move, which meant that the museum would remain open for nearly 81 consecutive hours, was designed partly as an appeal for younger and local audiences, who are often alienated by tourists from visiting the Louvre, which again topped the Art Newspaper’s annual museum attendance figures survey for 2018, bringing in 10.2 million people. (According to figures published on its website, the Louvre brought in 9.6 million people in 2019.) Additionally, 85 groups, including school children and disabled visitors, were given exclusive access to the exhibition.
The critically celebrated exhibition brought together some 160 works by da Vinci, including paintings, sculptures, and drawings drawn from the Louvre’s collection and supplemented by loans from institutions such as the Vatican Museums, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the Royal Collection and the National Gallery in Britain, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Many of the Louvre’s da Vinci works were moved from the typical locations in other parts of the museum, including his Virgin of the Rocks (ca. 1483-1488), La Belle Ferronnière (1495), and Saint John the Baptist (ca. 1504–06). The Mona Lisa was not moved from its spot in the Salle des États because of concerns of crowd control.
Though the Louvre was able to secure major loans for the show, including the Madonna Benoit (1478) from the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and Saint Jerome (1480) from the Vatican Museums, two famed works drew much attention as to whether they would be in the show. After a two-year political battle, an Italian judge ruled that da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (ca. 1490) could make the journey from the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice to Paris just days before it was set to open, but Salvator Mundi (ca. 1500), which set the record as the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction for $450 million, did not appear in the show. (Its current whereabouts are unknown, though rumors have placed it on a Saudi-owned yacht.)
Jean-Luc Martinez, the Louvre’s president, said in a statement, “It is wonderful that, 500 years after his death, an artist of the Italian Renaissance continues to fascinate the general public so much.”