10 Facts About the Theft of the Mona Lisa

10 Facts About the Theft of the Mona Lisa


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Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, also known as La Gioconda, is one of the world’s most famous and instantly recognized images. Painted in 1507, the Mona Lisa is renowned for the 16th century Florentine noblewoman’s enigmatic smile and debates over who she actually was.

The iconic artwork today helps attract millions of visitors to the Louvre in Paris – making it one of the most popular museums in the world. But perhaps the work would not be quite so well known if it hadn’t been for the events of 21 August 1911.

Here are 10 facts about the audacious theft of the Mona Lisa, and how this helped make it the world’s most famous painting.

1. The painting was stolen by the Louvre’s odd-job man, Vincenzo Peruggia

Vincenzo Peruggia had moved to Paris in 1908, and had worked as an odd-job man hired to carry out work at the Louvre. He was an Italian patriot who believed that da Vinci’s Mona Lisa should be returned to his home country.

A police photograph of Vincenzo Peruggia in 1911 (Image Credit: Public Domain).

2. The theft was surprisingly easy to carry out

Whilst Peruggia planned to steal the painting, this was no intricately masterminded extraction. On 21 August 1911, Peruggia went to the museum through the workers door and dressed in the white smock that all the employees wore.

(There is debate as to whether he entered the museum the previous night and hid in a small cupboard until the museum closed so that he could emerge in the morning to collect the painting without the need to identify himself to a guard at the entrace, but Peruggia denied this).

Da Vinci had painted the painting on three slabs of wood, a fairly common practice during the Renaissance, which made it weigh more than a simple canvas. Steps had also been taken to protect the painting by reinforcing it with a large wooden brace and placing it inside a glass-fronted box. Removing the painting from its frame, Peruggia hid it under his clothes seeing as it could not be rolled up.

On his way out, he was almost thwarted when he found his route of escape blocked by a locked door. Despite having obtained a key, this failed to work. On hearing footsteps approaching, Peruggia used a screwdriver to remove the doorknob. He then complained to the passer by (one of the Louvre’s plumbers, named Sauvet) about the missing doorknob, so Sauvet helpfully used some pliers to open the door and let him out.

3. It wasn’t until the following day that anyone noticed the painting had gone

The museum was not heavily guarded overnight and staff and artists assumed the painting had been taken away to be cleaned or photographed. It was only after an artist, Louis Béroud (who was there to paint the Mona Lisa), asked a guard when the painting might be returned that enquiries began. When the realisation hit that the Mona Lisa really was gone (26 hours after the theft took place), the Louvre was closed immediately to begin the investigation.

The French borders were closed and a hefty reward was offered to anyone who found the Mona Lisa.

Vacant wall in the Louvre’s Salon Carré after the painting was stolen in 1911 (Image Credit: “The Two Mona Lisas” by Walter Littlefield, article from Century Magazine, Vol. 87, N° 4 (Feb 1914). Published by The Century Company / Public Domain).

4. Pablo Picasso was once considered a suspect

The police were as baffled as everyone else as to who had stolen the painting.

It was thought that modernist enemies of traditional art must be involved. Guillaume Apollinaire, the avant-garde poet and playwright, was arrested and questioned for a week before being released. Pablo Picasso was the next prominent suspect, but there was no evidence against him either, despite suspicions remaining. Nevertheless, Picasso took the opportunity to try and dispose of some statues that turned out to have been stolen from the same museum.

Known for his collecting habits which frequently took him on buying sprees through Europe, at one time the American financier and banker J.P. Morgan was suspected of having the stolen artwork, which he strongly denied.

5. The theft became global news and a media sensation

The image of the Mona Lisa was distributed in newspapers far and wide when the crime was reported. Every major newspaper in Europe covered the story, and every story was illustrated with a reproduction of the painting. This led millions of people who might not have previously seen the painting, might never even have heard of it, to soon think they were knowledgeable on Leonardo’s stolen painting.

Stealing the Mona Lisa (Image Credit: La Domenica del Corriere, № 36, 3-10 settembro 1911 / Public Domain).

Crowds even queued in their thousands outside the Louvre just to see the space where it had once hung.

The theft inspired newspaper stories for weeks; any report on the case, no matter how trivial, found its way into print, with conspiracy theories abound. It would be two years before the painting reappeared.

6. Peruggia attempted to sell the Mona Lisa to the Uffizi gallery in Florence

Tired of sitting on the spoils of his heist, Vincenzo Peruggia attempted to sell the Mona Lisa several times. In November 1913, and calling himself Leonardo Vincenzo, Peruggia wrote to an art dealer in Florence, Alfredo Geri, offering to bring him the painting for a 500,000 lire reward.

The next month, he made the trip and took the painting to Geri’s gallery. Geri played along, and according to Geri, when questioned about the painting’s authenticity, ‘Leonard’ replied:

“We are dealing with the real Mona Lisa. I have good reason to be sure.”

Geri said that Leonard had coolly declared that he was certain because he had taken the painting from the Louvre himself.

The next day, Geri brought the director of the Uffizi gallery in Florence, Giovanni Poggi, to another meeting. Peruggia was persuaded to leave the painting for examination by an expert, and was arrested by police later that day.

He served only a brief prison sentence of seven months. He later returned to France and opened a paint shop in Haute-Savoie, having served in the Italian Army during World War One.

The Mona Lisa in the Uffizi Gallery, in Florence, 1913. Museum director Giovanni Poggi (right) inspects the painting. (Image Credit: The Telegraph, 1913 / Public Domain).

7. Many Italians were glad to see the Mona Lisa back in its ‘true home’

Peruggia had mistakenly believed that the Mona Lisa had been stolen from Florence by Napoleon, and felt he deserved a reward for doing his patriotic duty and returning it back to Italy (the Mona Lisa had in fact come to France more than two centuries before Napoleon was born).

Many Italians welcomed the painting home, with people flocking to see it when it was displayed briefly at the Uffizi Gallery for several weeks and toured through Italy.

8. The Mona Lisa was returned to the Louvre on 4 January 1914

The theft changed how the world saw the Mona Lisa. Peruggia’s act, and the whirl of press attention that ensued, had transformed the Mona Lisa into one of the most recognisable and famous artworks in the world.

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9. The theft may have been encouraged or masterminded by Eduardo de Valfierno

Valifierno was a con-man, and it is said he commissioned the French art forger Yves Chaudron to make copies of the painting which he could then sell as the missing original, increasing their value.

Furthermore, Valfierno said Peruggia did not act alone, having two accomplices who were needed to lift the painting, with its heavy protective container and frame, from the wall and carry it to a place where the frame could be removed.

This theory is based entirely on a 1932 article by former Hearst journalist Karl Decker in The Saturday Evening Post. Decker claimed to have known Valfierno and heard the story from him in 1913, promising not to print it until he learned of Valfierno’s death. It is not known whether there is any truth to the theory.

10. Nat King Cole covered the song ‘Mona Lisa’ about the painting in 1950

The cover version of Mona Lisa by Nat King Cole was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1992. He described this song as one of his favourites among his recordings.

Whilst the song does not reference the theft, it highlights how it had brought the painting so much fame, long after the event, which continues to this day.

In 1962, the Mona Lisa received a valuation of $100m. Accounting for inflation, the Mona Lisa would be estimated to be worth between $834m to $860m in today’s money.

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The Mona Lisa is stolen from the Louvre

The theft of the most famous painting in the world on 21 August 1911 created a media sensation.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, also known as La Gioconda, is the most famous painting in the world. Quantities of effort and ink have been spent over the years on identifying who she was and deciding what her enigmatic smile signifies, what she says about femininity, if anything, and why she has no eyebrows. Leonardo took the painting with him when he was invited to France by Francis I in 1516. The king bought it and at the French Revolution it was placed in the Louvre. Napoleon took it away to hang in his bedroom, but it was returned to the Louvre afterwards.

The theft of this fabulous object in 1911 created a media sensation. The police were as baffled as everyone else. It was thought that modernist enemies of traditional art must be involved and the avant-garde poet and playwright Guillaume Apollinaire was arrested in September and questioned for a week before being released. Pablo Picasso was the next prominent suspect, but there was no evidence against him either.

Two years went by before the true culprit was discovered, an Italian petty criminal called Vincenzo Perugia who had moved to Paris in 1908 and worked at the Louvre for a time. He went to the gallery in the white smock that all the employees there wore and hid until it closed for the night when he removed the Mona Lisa from its frame. When the gallery reopened he walked unobtrusively out with the painting under his smock, attracting no attention, and took it to his lodgings in Paris.

It was not until November 1913, calling himself Leonardo Vincenzo, that Perugia wrote to an art dealer in Florence named Alfredo Geri offering to bring the painting to Italy for a reward of 500,000 lire. He travelled to Florence by train the following month, taking the Mona Lisa in a trunk, hidden beneath a false bottom. After booking into a hotel, which subsequently shrewdly changed its name to the Hotel La Gioconda, he took the painting to Geri’s gallery. Geri persuaded him to leave it for expert examination and the police arrested Perugia later that day.

Perugia apparently believed, entirely mistakenly, that the Mona Lisa had been stolen from Florence by Napoleon and that he deserved a reward for doing his patriotic duty and returning it to its true home in Italy. That was what he said, at least. Many Italians welcomed the masterpiece home people flocked to see it for a time at the Uffizi Gallery, some of them weeping with joy, and Perugia served only a brief prison sentence. The great painting was duly returned to the Louvre and has hung there safely and enigmatically ever since.


Some claim the subject's lack of eyebrows is representative of high-class fashion of the time. Others insist her AWOL eyebrows are proof that Mona Lisa is an unfinished masterpiece. But in 2007 ultra-detailed digital scans of the painting revealed da Vinci had once painted on eyebrows and bolder eyelashes. Both had simply faded over time or had fallen victim to years of restoration work.

The portrait was first put on public display in the Louvre in 1815, inspiring admiration, as a string of "suitors bearing flowers, poems and impassioned notes climbed the grand staircase of the Louvre to gaze into her 'limpid and burning eyes.'"

"Mona Lisa often made men do strange things," R. A. Scotti wrote in Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa, "There were more than one million artworks in the Louvre collection she alone received her own mail. Mona Lisa received many love letters, and for a time they were so ardent that she was placed under police protection." The painting has its own mailbox at the Louvre because of all the love letters its subject receives.


Lisa del Giocondo Biography

Lisa del Giocondo was an Italian noblewoman whose portrait was painted by world-renowned artist Leonardo da Vinci after it was commissioned by Lisa's husband Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo during the Italian Renaissance. The portrait, Mona Lisa, went on to become one of the world's most recognized and iconic paintings of all time. Regarded as an exemplary masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance, the Mona Lisa is one of the most valuable paintings and the most visited work of art in the world. In 2005, Lisa del Giocondo was definitively identified as the woman who modeled for the Mona Lisa.

Lisa del Giocondo was born Lisa Gherardini on June 15, 1479, in Via Maggio, Republic of Florence, to Lucrezia del Caccia and Antonmaria di Noldo Gherardini. She was named after one of her paternal grandfather's wives. Lisa was born into an aristocratic family which had lost its influence over time. Her family lived on farm income in one of the largest cities in Europe. The eldest of seven children, Lisa was raised alongside three sisters and three brothers.

Lisa del Giocondo was married off to a moderately successful silk and cloth merchant named Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo when she was 15 years old. Her wedding took place on March 5, 1495, whereupon she became Francesco’s third wife. The couple led a middle-class life in Florence and lived in shared accommodation. On 5 March 1503, Francesco bought a house next to his family's old home where the couple started living. Lisa and Francesco were blessed with five children four of them were born between 1496 and 1507. In 1499, the couple lost a baby daughter soon after her birth. Apart from raising her own children, Lisa also raised Bartolomeo, Francesco's son from his previous marriage to Camilla.


10 Facts You Might not Know about the Masterpiece

1. She lived with Francois I, Louis XIV and Napoleon

Although da Vinci began work on his masterpiece while living in his native Italy, he did not finish it until he moved to France at King Francois I's request. The French king displayed the painting in his Fontainebleau palace where it remained for a century. Louis XIV removed it to the grand Palace of Versailles. At the outset of the 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte kept the painting in his boudoir.

2. Some historians believe Mona Lisa is a Self-Portrait of Leonardo da Vinci.

Leonardo da Vinci died in 1519, and he is buried at a French castle. Italy's National Committee for Cultural Heritage is undertaking an investigation, and plans to dig up his skull. They want to rebuild Leonardo's face, using CSI-style technology. Will he resemble the mysterious Mona Lisa?

3. She has her own room in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

After the Louvre launched a four-year, $6.3 million renovation in 2003, the painting now has its own room. A glass ceiling lets in natural light, a shatter-proof glass display case maintains a controlled temperature of 43 degrees F. and a little spotlight brings out the true colors of da Vinci's original paints.

4. It is a painting but not a canvas.

Da Vinci's famous masterpiece is painted on a poplar plank. Considering he was accustomed to painting larger works on wet plaster, a wood plank does not seem that outlandish. Canvas was available to artists since the 14th century, but many Renaissance masters preferred wood as a basis for their small artworks.

5. Jackie Kennedy invited her to visit.

Over the centuries, French officials have only rarely let the painting out of their sight. However, when first lady Jackie Kennedy asked if the painting could visit the U.S., French President de Gaulle agreed. "Mona Lisa" went on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and then at the Metropolitan Museum of the Arts in New York City.

6. A thief made her famous.

Although in the art world, the painting had always been an acknowledged masterpiece, it wasn't until it was stolen in the summer of 1911 that it would capture the attention of the general public. Newspapers spread the story of the crime worldwide. When the painting finally returned to the Louvre two years later, practically the whole world was cheering.

7. Picasso was under suspicion for the theft. During the investigation, the gendarmes went so far as to question known art dissidents such as Pablo Picasso about the theft. They briefly arrested poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who had once said the painting should be burned. Their suspicions proved to be unfounded.

8. She receives fan mail.

Since the painting first arrived at the Louvre in 1815, "Mona Lisa" has received plenty of love letters and flowers from admirers. She even has her own mailbox.

9. Not everyone is a fan.

Various vandals have tried to harm da Vinci's famed masterpiece, and 1956 was a particularly bad year. In two separate attacks, one person threw acid at the painting, and another individual pelted it with a rock. The damage is faint but still noticeable. The addition of bulletproof glass repelled subsequent attacks with spray paint in 1974 and a coffee cup in 2009.

10. She cannot be bought or sold.

Truly priceless, the painting cannot be bought or sold according to French heritage law. As part of the Louvre collection, "Mona Lisa" belongs to the public, and by popular agreement, their hearts belong to her.


4. The Mona Lisa was commissioned for a celebration

With the mystery about the identity of Mona Lisa solved, we can also be certain about most of the other things written regarding the painting. One of these things is the exact reason it was commissioned.

This was mentioned by Renaissance art historian Giorgio Vasari (July 30, 1511 – June 27, 1574). According to him, the husband of Lisa del Giocondo was a rich merchant, so he was able to afford the creation of a painting.

Since the couple was living a care-free existence as upper-middle-class citizens, the husband commissioned a painting of his wife to celebrate their new home, and the birth of their second son, Andrea.


10 Facts About the Theft of the Mona Lisa - History

No one really know who Mona Lisa was, who commissioned the portrait, how long Leonardo da Vinci worked on it, how long he kept it, or how it even came to be in the French royal collection. However, the Mona Lisa painting is easily the most famous, most studied, and the most widely recognized painting in the world. Take a look below for 25 more interesting and bizarre facts about the Mona Lisa painting.

1. The Mona Lisa was painted using oil paint on a poplar wood panel, using a technique that left no visible brush marks.

2. Her smile, which is famous for its intriguing nature, is an enigmatic aspect of the historic portrait.

3. The dimensions of the painting are 53 by 77 centimeters, or 21 by 30 inches. This makes it just a little bit bigger than an A2 piece of paper.

4. The title of the painting, “Mona Lisa”, means “My Lady Lisa”, in Old English.

5. The painting is now over 500 years old.

6. Modern face recognition software has found that Mona Lisa is 83% happy, 9% disgusted, 6% fearful and 2% angry in the portrait.

7. It’s currently located at the Musee du Louvre in Paris, France, where it has a room of its own. It’s been on permanent display since 1797.

8. Over 6 million people visit the painting at the Louvre each year. An average person spends 15 seconds looking at her.

9. The painting became even more famous when it was stolen from the Louvre in 1911.

10. While the painting was missing, 6 wealthy Americans were tricked into paying up to $300,000 each for fake Mona Lisa paintings.

11. Pablo Picasso was once a suspect in the theft of the famous painting, and was even brought in for questioning.

12. The Mona Lisa is considered to be priceless, which is why it can’t be insured.

13. Many people believe that the painting was created in the image of Lisa Gherardini, but others believe that it’s actually a self portrait of Leonardo da Vinci himself.

14. Mona Lisa’s eyebrows and eyelashes are missing, but the reason why has been debated over the years. Some believe that they were accidentally removed during a restoration. Others believe that they’re missing because of Leonardo da Vinci’s obsession with perfection in his work, which resulted in him never completing the painting. It was also popular at the time of the painting’s creation for women to completely pluck their eyebrows and eyelashes, so Mona Lisa might not have had any to begin with.

15. There are 3 previous layers beneath the Mona Lisa that depict her in different poses.

16. In 1913, Vincenzo Perugia was found to have stolen the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. He was an Italian patriot and believe that the painting should be in Italy. He was also an employee at the Louvre when he stole it and he kept it in his apartment for 2 years. He was found when he tried to sell it to a gallery in Florence, Italy.

17. The Mona Lisa has its own climate controlled room in the Louvre Museum in Paris, with bullet proof glass to protect it. The room has been estimated to have cost more than $7 million to build.

18. In 1956, before the painting had its own room, Ugo Ungaza threw a stone at the Mona Lisa and damaged a portion of the painting near her left elbow.

19. There’s a second Mona Lisa painting in Museo del Prado, Madrid. This painting is thought to have been painted by one of Leonardo da Vinci’s pupils. When it’s viewed with the original Mona Lisa, it created a 3D effect, making it the first stereoscopic image in history.

20. When painting the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci had six musicians play for her and installed a musical fountain he invited himself. He did all this because he wanted to keep his subject relaxed and entertained.

21. Leonardo da Vinci invented scissors, played the viola, and spent 12 years painting the Mona Lisa’s lips.

22. During World War II, the Mona Lisa was moved 6 times so it can be kept out of the hands of the Nazis.

23. In 1983, a Japanese artist called Tadahiko Ogawa, made a copy of the Mona Lisa completely out of toast.

24. The painting was loaned to the National Gallery for a month in 1963. Its visit included 24 hour security by U.S. Marines and even with expanded viewing hours, the line to wait was often 2 hours long.

25. The French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, once had the Mona Lisa hanging in his bedroom, where it was said that he reveled in her beauty for many hours.


5 A Hidden Painting Behind The Portrait

Using infrared and laser imaging on the Mona Lisa in 2006, scientists in Canada revealed da Vinci&rsquos rudimentary sketches, including a change of position in the index and middle fingers of the left hand. Through this, numerous discoveries emerged, such as the lace drawn on Mona Lisa&rsquos dress and the blanket on her knees extending to cover her stomach.

In 2015, French engineer Pascal Cotte used similar techniques of projecting light beams at varying wavelengths onto the work and measuring the quantities of light reflected back. Curiously, his discovery presented a secret portrait behind the Mona Lisa we see today. [6]

In what Cotte terms the &ldquolayer amplification method,&rdquo he states, &ldquoWe can analyze exactly what happens inside the layers of the painting&rsquos creation, and we can peel them like an onion.&rdquo Cotte found four images beneath the uppermost painted surface, including a painting of a younger woman with petite facial features and no smile.

Different theories have surfaced surrounding the real identity of the woman in the painting, but perhaps her true face will always remain a mystery.


Fame and Worth

Today, Mona Lisa is undoubtedly the most famous painting in the world. It was the 1911’s theft that made this masterpiece famous and gave it the recognition that it deserves.

In 1962, the painting was assessed for insurance and the estimated worth came out to be $100 million which is equivalent to $860 million in 2020.

The Louvre gets almost ten million visitors each year, and 30,000–50,000 visitors each day. Eighty percent of visitors come just to see The Mona Lisa. The painting is now kept behind bulletproof glass to prevent it from further stealing attempts.


How the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa made it the world’s most famous painting

The heist happened in broad daylight.

On Aug. 21, 1911, a thief dressed in a white worker’s smock entered the Louvre, closed because it was a Monday. In the Salon Carré, the Louvre’s gallery of Renaissance treasures, he lifted a small wooden painting off the wall and removed its glass shadow box. Hiding the artwork under his smock, he then walked out into the streets of Paris with his loot.

Twenty-six hours would pass before anyone noticed that the Mona Lisa had gone missing.

Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of a 16th century Florentine noblewoman with an enigmatic smile ranks as one of the world’s most instantly recognized images. Singer Nat “King” Cole celebrated it in a 1950 pop hit. Cartoonists have parodied it. Dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp scandalized the art world when he painted a mustache on a shoddy reproduction.

This month the Louvre is mounting a major da Vinci exhibition to mark the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death. The museum is expecting huge crowds.

Da Vinci painted his masterpiece in 1507, but it was only in the 19th century that critics begin to see the work as the pinnacle of Renaissance Florentine painting. In 1911, the Mona Lisa was not yet instantly recognizable. In fact, when The Washington Post first reported the theft and appraised the painting’s value at $5 million, the paper mistakenly ran a picture of the Monna Vanna, a nude charcoal sketch that some believe da Vinci made in preparation to paint the Mona Lisa.

The theft changed how the world saw the Mona Lisa.

The heist was discovered when a wealthy museum patron and amateur painter arrived at the Salon Carré to study “La Joconde,” as the French call the Mona Lisa. Instead, he found a blank wall space.

The Louvre routinely removed art work for photographing so a guard thought nothing of the missing work. But after several hours, he alerted the staff.

That evening police announced the theft. Georges Benedite, curator of the Louvre, told the press that only a practical joker would steal such a prized painting as it would be too difficult to fence. By contrast, the gendarmes believed the thief would demand a ransom within 48 hours. But two days passed and no one came forward.

The thief left behind very few clues. Security found a doorknob from the staircase outside the building. A plumber recalled helping a man who had taken off a doorknob while locked in the stairwell.

A guard found the wooden frame and glass covering box on a staircase. The frame had one thumb print. Paris police inspector Alphonse Bertillon, often credited with inventing the mug shot, believed in the new technique of fingerprinting. However, he had 750,000 prints on file — too many to check. Instead, he fingerprinted the 257 Louvre employees who had been working that day.

Police distributed 6,500 leaflets with the painting’s image and offered a 40,000 francs reward. Neighbors informed on neighbors. Co-workers informed on co-workers. Every lead led nowhere — though the museum did recover some stolen loot.

On Sept. 7, police arrested the poet Guillaume Apollinaire on suspicion of involvement in the theft of the Mona Lisa and some Egyptian statuettes from the Louvre. The poet’s secretary, Géry Pieret, who was also a small-time art thief, had gone to the Paris-Journal newspaper after a falling out with Apollinaire, claiming to have information on the Mona Lisa.

Police interrogated a terrified Apollinaire and eventually released him but not before he gave up the name of a close friend, the painter Pablo Picasso. Picasso knew nothing about the da Vinci but did return some Iberian Bronze Age statues, stolen by Pieret in 1907. (The statuary served as models for his “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” a work that helped usher in cubism.)

The Louvre kept an empty space open for the vanished painting. Crowds of curious onlookers came to gaze at the vacant wall — among them, absurdist writer Franz Kafka and his close friend Max Brod.

Conspiracy theories abounded. Some thought that a forgery ring took it and were selling forgeries to naive but wealthy art lovers. Or a robber baron, perhaps J.P. Morgan, had played fence and purchased the original outright. Others speculated that Adam Worth, the criminal who once purloined Thomas Gainsborough’s “Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire,” had taken it. However, Worth had died in 1902 and was buried in a London pauper’s grave.

For over two years, the painting remained missing. Then the thief stepped forward.

Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian national, was a house painter, mason and aspiring portraitist. He had briefly worked for a firm that cut glass for the Louvre. His French co-workers relentlessly bullied him about his nationality, calling him a “macaroni.” The hotheaded workman had prior arrests for robbing a prostitute and for toting a gun during a brawl.

Because he was part of the glass crew that had worked at the Louvre, the police had interviewed Peruggia in his Paris apartment in 1911. They believed his alibi that he had been working at a different location the day of the theft. Unbeknownst to them, the Mona Lisa was in the apartment, stashed in a trunk.

In December 1913, Peruggia wrote to Alfredo Geri, an antique dealer who had advertised for fine art in several Italian newspapers. Signing his letter “V. Leonard,” he indicated that he had the Mona Lisa. Mistakenly believing the painting had been taken by Napoleon during his looting of Italian art, Peruggia expected a reward for returning the painting to what he regarded as its homeland. (The painting had resided in France since 1516 when da Vinci gifted the work to his Gallic patron, King Francois I.)

Geri contacted Giovanni Poggi, director of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and set up a meeting with Peruggia in Milan. Poggi authenticated the painting and persuaded Peruggia to leave it for “safekeeping.” Then they contacted the Italian police.


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