Mona Lisa Stolen: Everything you Need to Know


She’s one of the most talked about, studied and photographed paintings on the planet. She’s worth hundreds of millions of dollars, she lives inside of the biggest museum in the world, and on August 20th, 1911, she was stolen from her home and held captive for over two years.

She is the Mona Lisa; and this is everything you need to know about the art heist of the century.

The Mona Lisa – by Eric TERRADE – Unsplash

The Mona Lisa

The portrait known as the Mona Lisa was painted sometime during the Italian Renaissance by Leonardo da Vinci. While the exact dates of its creation will forever remain a mystery, historians predict it is likely that it took place between the years of 1503 and 1506.

Much speculation has also existed surrounding the unknown identity of the woman depicted in the actual painting.

Our best guess is that it was a commissioned piece of a noblewoman named Lisa Gherardini, most likely by her husband Francesco del Giocondo.

Mona Lisa – by Amandajm – Wikimedia Commons

So the Mona Lisa emerged from Italian soil centuries ago. It became official property of France when King Francis I purchased it for himself. It quickly evolved into of of the most valuable pieces of art in the world, eventually finding a home in the Louvre Museum in Paris from 1797 onward.

The Mona Lisa had a long residency in the Louvre, so the events that transpired in 1911 shook most of the European continent to its core.

The Day of the Heist

The 20th of August, 2011, was just your average Sunday. Business went on as usual at the Louvre, with excited travelers getting their last weekend visits into the museum before the start of a new week.

Just before closing, a man named Vincenzo Peruggia arrived at the Louvre and entered as a visitor. Peruggia was an Italian man living in Paris, and a former Louvre Museum employee; he had actually, years before, helped with the construction of the protective case in which the Mona Lisa was kept.

Peruggia knew the museum well and made his way over to a storage cupboard in which he knew he could spend the night. In these days, security inside of the museum by night was nonexistent, so once the doors were shut for the day he knew he would be free to move around the inside.

Vincenzo Peruggia – M0tty – Wikimedia Commons

Peruggia removed the Mona Lisa from her holding spot, wrapped her in a sheet and waited for morning. As soon as the museum was reopened the next day, he made his way out.

Funny enough, a Louvre Museum employee actually crossed paths with Peruggia in a stairwell where he was attempting to get a locked door open. The employee took him for a fellow worker and let him out, and minutes later Peruggia exited the Louvre with the Mona Lisa hidden under his apron.

It took over 24 hours for museum officials to realize that the painting had been stole. Back in the day, seeing odd, bare spots on the museum walls wasn’t unusual as a lot of artworks needed to be regularly removed either for cleaning or photography.

A Search Ensues

Once it was official, the Mona Lisa had been stolen, pandemonium ensued across Paris and the rest of France. Law enforcement were sent out and about, scouring the streets for the petty thief who had managed to pull off such an act.

The Louvre Museum was closed for a week after the incident, with all employees and grounds staff being intensely questioned and investigated.

The police investigations turned up a few promising leads, which was a difficult task considering the intensity of the media coverage happening across France during this time. Ironically, none of them were Peruggia.

by Rumman Amin – Unsplash

Having been a former Louvre employee, Peruggia was actually questioned multiple times by the police, but they never felt the need to consider him a suspect. Unbeknownst to them, the Mona Lisa was right there in his apartment in a chest with a false bottom.

Peruggia kept the painting here for close to two full years. At this point, most of the country was convince that the Mona Lisa was no longer in France at all.

Recovery at Last

To understand Peruggia’s act, one needs to understand his motive. Peruggia was a patriotic Italian and believed that the Mona Lisa needed to be taken back to Italy where she, in his mind, belonged.

In 1913, Peruggia made contact with an art dealer in Florence, confessing that he had been the one who stole the Mona Lisa from the Louvre and that she remained in his possession.

The dealer helped Peruggia make contact with the director of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Giovanni Poggi. Poggi invited Peruggia to a secret hotel meeting in a hotel room where he could prove that he was indeed holding the Mona Lisa.

by Jacques Bopp – Unsplash

After having the paining authenticated, Poggi agreed to Peruggia’s stipulated price of 500,000-lire. But Poggi had no intention of following through with the sale.

Instead he took all of his information to the authorities who were able to use it to apprehend Peruggia in his hotel room in Florence in December of 1913. Peruggia was tried and sentenced on Italian soil, and the Mona Lisa was sent back to Paris in January of 1914.

She was returned to her home in the Louvre, but now lives permanently behind bullet proof glass. There is speculation to this day as to whether or not the real Mona Lisa actually even hangs in the public eye, or if an excellent fake was put up in place in order to minimize insurance risk.

In 1962 the Mona Lisa received an insurance valuation that stated $100 million. Today, this sum would be the equivalent of around $700 million.

A National Hero

During his sentencing, Vincenzo Peruggia expressed dismay at the fact that the Mona Lisa had been stolen from Italy centuries ago. He was later informed that it was Leonardo da Vinci himself who had brought the paining to France and sold it off; everything was executed completely legally in this regard.

A lot of Italians revered Peruggia as a national hero upon hearing of his motives.

Peruggia was given just a year and a few days in prison, but served only seven months before being released. He went on to serve for the Italian army in World War I and passed away in 1947.

Thanks to Vincenzo Peruggia, the Mona Lisa is more famous today than it probably ever would have been without the scandal.

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by Mika Baumeister – Unsplash