Art History

Theft of the Mona Lisa

The famous Mona Lisa painted by Leonardo da Vinci, is one of the most recognized and highly valuable paintings in history. It was last insured for eight hundred million dollars in 2017. It is owned by the French Republic and hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris.  It has inspired poetry, music, literature and movies over the centuries since it was painted.

The painting was stolen from the Louvre in 1911 and was lost for two years. It was recovered in 1913, but by then it had become famous for its part in one of the most daring art heists ever. The piece was stolen by an Italian handyman, but from one of the most prestigious art museums in the world, creating an international scandal. The man, Vincenzo Peruggia,  had been hired to build a glass box to protect the masterpiece, but instead snuck it out inside his coat. It was a full day before anyone realized it was missing, due to there being much less security in the museum back then.

The press at that time mocked the inept police and government for not being able to discover the thief and recover the painting quickly. It wasn’t long before the international papers picked up on the story and began running it all across the world. Visitors would come to the museum just to witness the now blank spot where it used to hang. During the two year search for it, there were many suspects in the art community including Pablo Picasso, but none of those leads turned up the painting. There were even rumors that six identical forgeries were being sold while the Mona Lisa was missing, as financial motivation for the heist.

The police never found the thief through their own efforts, but had some help from a French art dealer. The art dealer received a letter from someone claiming to have the Mona Lisa for sale. They used that to set up a meeting with Peruggia and when he showed up with the painting they arrested him. For one of the most publicized art thefts in history, the man did seven months in prison. He thought of himself as an Italian patriot and hero for stealing it from the French, though not many agreed with him.

Since then, the painting has survived numerous attacks, but no one else has been able to steal it. There was an incident of acid being thrown at it, as well as red paint, but each time the Mona Lisa was able to be rescued with conservation. Now, the Mona Lisa resides under bullet proof glass, protected by one of the most sophisticated security systems in the world.

About the Author

Amanda graduated from the University of Kansas, where she studied English literature and got a masters degree in library sciences. She enjoys reading, cooking and playing with her nephews. Her best friend is her little dog Brady.