What is the Mona Lisa Doing Here?

It was a cold winter day in Washington, DC, and the lines to get into the National Gallery of Art snaked all around the huge building. The year was 1963, and President Kennedy had managed a diplomatic coup by getting the French government to loan the Mona Lisa so that Americans could see the most famous work of art in the world.

The crowds to see it were unprecedented. One had to stand in line for hours and even overnight. A little boy was among the thousands who flocked to see the painting. Bundled up and shivering from the cold, he grew excited as his place in line finally got inside the building, and eventually into the very gallery where Leonardo’s masterpiece hung.

But being a short little kid, he had to wait until he could place himself squarely in front, just a foot or so from the canvas. And then he did something astonishing.

Unbuttoning his winter coat, he revealed his dog, whom he had been carrying secretly all this time.

“I wanted my dog to see the Mona Lisa,” he explained matter-of-factly to the startled guards.

How many dogs can claim to have accomplished such a feat?

Photograph: President Kennedy, Mme Malraux, French Minister of Culture André Malraux, Jackie Kennedy and Vice President Johnson at the unveiling of the Mona Lisa, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 8 January 1963
© Photo © Robert Knadsen, White House / John Fitzgerald Kennedy Presidential Library, Boston

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