The Mona Lisa
Art Crime of The Century
Even at the beginning of the 20th century — before mass reproductions, package tours to France and The Da Vinci Code — Mona Lisa was different from other pictures. The woman with the enigmatic smile got so many love letters that her portrait was the only artwork at the Louvre to have its own mailbox. A heartbroken suitor once shot himself to death in front of her.
So is it any surprise that somebody finally eloped with her?
The surface story is simple: Former Louvre employee Peruggia wanted to restore the “Mona Lisa” to her native Italy. He said it was a matter of national pride (though it seems like profit was a pretty good motive, too). So he went into the Louvre, hid, and snuck the painting out underneath his coat after the museum had closed. It took a day for the Louvre to even notice, and for two years Peruggia kept the painting before being caught when trying to unload it on a gallery in Florence.
He made more money as a handyman than as an artist, but Vincenzo Peruggia’s personally responsible for making the Mona Lisa what it is today. Leonardo da Vinci painted Lisa del Giocondo in the early 16th century, but Peruggia made her famous worldwide by walking out of the Louvre with the painting wrapped in his smock on August 21, 1911. With that daring daylight robbery, the Mona Lisa began her ascent into the stratosphere of cultural fame, while Peruggia sank further and further into the hazy mists of vague infamy. How and why did Peruggia do it? More importantly, what would have happened if he hadn’t?