PARIS – Ellen McBreen has been taking U.S. tourists on private art history tours of the Musée du Louvre for more than three years, but only recently have they stopped in the Grande Gallerie to ask, “Is this where the curator died?”
Her customers have been reading “The Da Vinci Code,” Dan Brown’s blockbuster art mystery that takes place in the world’s most famous museum.
“It didn’t take us long to figure out that there was a demand for knowledge about the theories in the book,” she says. So in mid-February, McBreen’s company, Paris Muse, began “Cracking the Da Vinci Code” tours of the Louvre. They instantly became the company’s top offering.
The idea that a work of fiction could inspire tourism is remarkable, until you remember that many books and films have inspired fan pilgrimages.
“The Da Vinci Code” has been in the Top 10 on Publishers Weekly’s bestsellers list, compiled from publishers’ reports, for 50 weeks and, recently translated, was angling its way toward the top spot in France last month.
I don’t want to give away the secrets of McBreen’s tour, but here are a few fun facts for the book’s fans:
• The Grand Gallery where the curator is killed really does have a parquet floor.
• The Caravaggio painting the curator takes down so easily weighs at least 200 pounds and is held by steel cables. It would take the strength of Hercules to move it, giving the old guy less energy to get shot, run down the hall, leave intricate clues and die.
• The gates, rest rooms and a lot of other rooms described in the book don’t exist, at least not in the places described by Brown.
• The Da Vinci painting “Madonna of the Rocks” can’t be ripped by a knee; it’s painted on wood.
• Mona Lisa is almost certainly a woman, not a man. Still, “Because of Dan Brown, people are looking at the Mona Lisa much, much more closely,” says McBreen, as we stare at the pensive lady behind her Plexiglas barrier.
Themes raised in the book — pagan symbols in Christian art, the role of Mary Magdalene and the theory of the “sacred feminine” — are fairly complex ideas. McBreen takes her customers toward understanding. You might start by knowing only what you read in the book, but you’ll end up knowing more about art.
If you’re on a budget, read up and do a self-guided Louvre tour, or visit places important to the novel that don’t charge admission, such as the church of St. Sulpice on the Left Bank.
After much walking, I found St. Sulpice, a gloomy, gray stone church. Near the altar, the brass Rose Line meridian crossed the floor, exactly as described in the mystery. And in one corner was indeed a strange, tall obelisk, part of the church’s pagan sundial.
I looked up to the organ pipes, which boomed minor-key Bach, the organist unseen.
“That’s where the nun hid,” my husband whispered, pointing to the balcony above.
I nodded. And we got out of there fast, just in case a villain was lurking.
IF YOU’RE INTERESTED
Paris Muse’s “Cracking the Da Vinci Code” private tour is 2 1/2 hours; the price is 110 euros (about $132) for one person and 95 euros (about $114) per person in groups of two or more. See www.parismuse.com or call Paris Muse at 011-336-7377-3352.
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