Mona Lisa theft
On Monday, August 21, 1911, the world's most famous work of art
- Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa - was stolen from the Louvre museum
in Paris. That morning, many museum employees noticed that the
painting was not hanging in its usual place. But, they assumed
the painting was taken off the wall by the official museum photographer
who was shooting pictures of it up in his studio.
By Tuesday morning,
when the painting hadn't been returned and it was not in the photographer's
studio, museum officials were notified. The painting was gone!
The police were contacted
immediately and they set up headquarters in the museum curator's
office. The entire museum was searched from top to bottom. This
took a week because of the size of the Lourve: it's a 49-acre
building which runs along the Seine river for 2,200 feet. The
only thing a detective found was the heavy frame that once held
the Mona Lisa. It was discovered in a staircase leading to a cloakroom.
Once the news became
public, French newspapers made several claims as to the nature
of the theft. One newspaper proclaimed that an American collector
stole the work and would have an exact copy made which would be
returned to the museum. This "collector" would then
keep the original. Another newspaper said that the entire incident
was a hoax to show how easy it was to steal from the Louvre.
Many people were questioned
about the theft - from museum employees to people who worked or
lived nearby. Perhaps somebody might have seen someone acting
"suspiciously?" The police even questioned Pablo Picasso.
Picasso had previously bought two stone sculptures from a friend
named Pieret. Pieret had actually stolen these pieces from the
Louvre months before the Mona Lisa was stolen. Picasso thought
that perhaps his friend might have also stolen the Mona Lisa.
Fearful of the implications
and bad publicity, Picasso had the sculptures given to a local
newspaper in order for their return to the museum. Picasso wished
to remain anonymous, but someone gave his name to the police.
After an interrogation, the police concluded that Picasso knew
nothing about the theft of the Mona Lisa.
Luckily, the painting
was recovered 27 months after it was stolen. An Italian man named
Vincenzo Perugia tried to sell the work to the Uffizi Gallery
in Florence, Italy for 500,000 lire ($100,000). Perugia claimed
he stole the work out of patriotism. He didn't think such a work
by a famous Italian should be kept in France. What Perugia didn't
realize was that while the Mona Lisa was probably painted in Italy,
Leonardo took it with him to France and sold it to King Francis
I for 4,000 gold coins.
How did Perugia steal
the Mona Lisa? He had spent Sunday night in the Louvre, hiding
in an obscure little room. Monday morning, while the museum was
closed, he entered the room where the painting was kept and unhooked
from the wall. In a staircase, he cut the painting from it's frame.
While trying to leave the building, he came to a looked door.
He unscrewed the doorknob and put it in his pocket. He then walked
out of the Louvre and into the pages of history.
ten months before the painting was stolen, the Louvre decided
to have all masterpieces put under glass. Perugia was one of four
men assigned to the job. Police questioned Perugia after the theft,
but his easy-going, calm demeanor settled any doubts of his involvement.
The source of this
story on the Mona Lisa theft is The Art Stealers by Milton Esterow,
New York: Macmillan Company, 1966. pp 100-152