In December, the Metropolitan Museum of Art put a portrait of King Philip IV of Spain back on display after 37 years in storage. Restoration experts had determined that the painting was, in fact, the work of 17th-century Spanish artist Velazquez. Experts had for years questioned the painting’s authenticity, assuming it was done by one of Velazquez’s assistants.
The discovery was celebrated in the art community, and the Met decided to restore the painting and make it available for public viewing.
Little did they know the king himself would pay a visit.
Improv Everywhere, a performance art group famous for causing funny scenes in public places — including its annual “No Pants Subway Ride” — decided to hold a meet-and-greet in front of the prized picture with King Philip himself. One of the group’s actors, Chadwick Elliott, just happened to bear a striking resemblance to the 17th-century Spanish monarch. Elliott donned royal garb and, along with an accomplice — Improv Everywhere founder Charlie Todd — snuck into the museum, where he began signing autographs on pictures of “himself” as King Philip.
As Todd wrote in a blog post recounting the prank this weekend, “The best unauthorized Improv Everywhere missions are the ones that don’t technically break any rules. Surely there is no policy on the books at the Met about dressing up like a painting and standing in front of it.”
Indeed, there wasn’t much the guards could do other than ask questions. As the onlookers gawked and asked for autographs, one guard asked Todd, “He’s really the king?” When Todd did the math for him, the guard got the joke. “He doesn’t look 400,” the guard said. “Ask him, what does he eat?”
Others had a variety of reactions:
Some stared bewildered, some laughed, some took photos, some wouldn’t stop asking questions. I’m not sure if we actually fooled anyone, at least not anyone who took the time to do the math at how old someone depicted in a Renaissance painting would have to be. Yet with my suit and the King’s costume, we did look pretty professional. We looked like we were supposed to be there. I overheard a few people guessing he was a modern day king, a descendant of the king in the painting.
Even after Todd and Elliott tried to comply with the requests of the security staff by putting their signs and photographs away, people continued to ask for autographs. Eventually they were asked to leave. “We had lasted longer than I thought we would,” Todd wrote. “I figured there would be a pretty low tolerance for pranks in front of priceless works of art.”