A “Patriotic” Burglary of Mona Lisa

In 1911 the masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci Mona Lisa, which once, soon after the French Revolution, hanged in Napoleon’s bedroom, was stolen from the Louvre: the enigmatic and slightly arrogant smile disappeared. The burglary caused a colossal stir and ample dismay. The French newspaper Le Matin offered “a reward of 5, 000 francs to any occultist, fortune-teller, chiromancer, diviner or clairvoyant” who could reveal its whereabouts.

MONA LISA The gap on the wall of the Carre Gallery of the Louvre Museum, Paris, where the Mona Lisa was exhibited before it was stolen – L”Illustration 26 August 1911 (page 166). – Mary Evans Picture Library/Everett Collection

In D.V.  by Diana Vreeland I’ve found a following extract:

My sister and I always did as we were told, so we did get to know the Mona Lisa rather well. This particular Wednesday afternoon, we saw it from so many angles that the guard had to come and tell us to get out because we were the last people in the Louvre. […] The next morning it was in all the newspapers that the Mona Lisa had been stolen during the night.

Diana Vreeland’s biography. Credit: Google

However, the thievery took place in August 21st, which according to my c Google’s calculations was Monday. A random mistake? Who knows…

Pablo Picasso was one of the suspects at one point but there was no evidence against him.

Pablo Picasso. Credit: Google

Anyway, there was no information on where the painting could be and the hope was almost lost, when in November 1913 a petty Italian criminal called Vincenzo Peruggia wrote to Alfredo Geri, an art dealer in Florence. Vincenzo, who called himself Leonardo Vincenzo in the letter, offered to bring the painting to Italy for a reward of 500, 000 lire.

The police record of Vincenzo Peruggia who attempted to steal Leonardo de Vinci’s painting ‘The Mona Lisa’ in 1911, 25th January 1909. (Photo by Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

Thus, the following month he travelled to Florence by train, taking Mona Lisa with him hidden in a trunk with a double bottom. When Vincenzo arrived to Geri’s gallery, the art dealer persuaded him to leave the painting for an expert examination. Later that day Peruggia was arrested.

FLORENCE – 1914: Peruggia is shown in the courtroom in Florence, in June of 1914. (Photo by Albert Harlingue/Roger-Viollet/Getty Images)

During the police investigation, which continued two years after the crime, Peruggia was actually interviewed twice before the force excluded him as a suspect.

He had planned his crime pretty well. After arriving to Paris in 1908, Vincenzo worked at the Louvre for a time. On that day he went to the gallery wearing the white smoke, which all the employees there wore and hid himself there until closing. Then he removed the painting from its frame in order to hide it under his smoke and walk imperturbably out in the morning, after the gallery had opened for visitors.

Mona Lisa at Uffizi, 1913. Credit: Google

Peruggia mistakenly believed that the painting had been stolen from Florence by Napoleon and that he deserved a reward for performing his patriotic duty by returning the painting to its country of origin. No one knows whether he was sincere in his belief or it merely was a bluff. However, he served seven month prison sentence. Mona Lisa was welcomed by Italians and was exhibited at the Uffizi Gallery for a while, before returning to its French home at the Louvre.

Mona Lisa came back to Paris in January 1914. Credit: Google

What would the Louvre be without its Joconde? As the Eiffel Tour is the eternal symbol of Paris, the Mona Lisa is the heart of the Louvre attracting millions of visitors around the world. If the museum was a fashion house, the painting would in the fashion system’s equivalent correspond a strong trade mark which creates the brand identity and guarantees quality for the visitors.

Mon Lisa “La Joconde”. Credit: Google

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