The Adoration of the Mona Lisa Begins with Theft

Every year, five mil­lion vis­i­tors stream into the Lou­vre in Paris, mak­ing it the most vis­it­ed muse­um in the world. And, more than any oth­er paint­ing, vis­i­tors head to see Leonar­do da Vin­ci’s Mona Lisa, paint­ed cir­ca 1503 — 1519.

It’s tempt­ing to attribute the pop­u­lar­i­ty of the Mona Lisa to the endur­ing genius of da Vin­ci. But, as NPR’s All Things Con­sid­ered recounts, there was a time when the paint­ing hard­ly attract­ed pub­lic atten­tion, and what turned the paint­ing into an object of pub­lic ado­ra­tion was some­thing baser than genius itself: brazen theft. Click here and NPR will tell you the sto­ry of the great Mona Lisa heist that went down on August 21, 1911, almost 100 years ago…

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Vir­tu­al Tour of the Sis­tine Chapel

Google “Art Project” Brings Great Paint­ings & Muse­ums to You

MoMA Puts Pol­lock, Rothko & de Koon­ing on Your iPad

by | Permalink | Comments (4) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (4)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Once again, the NPR Radio broad­cast regard­ing the theft of the Mona Lisa is being pro­mot­ed and unfor­tu­nate­ly there is almost no truth to the infor­ma­tion pre­sent­ed in the sto­ry.

    Writer/Director Joe Medeiros has spent the last 35 years research­ing this sto­ry and the last four years shoot­ing his doc­u­men­tary, THE MISSING PIECE: THE TRUTH ABOUT THE MAN WHO STOLE THE MONA
    Here is the site for the press release regard­ing Medeiros. He is con­sid­ered the lead­ing expert in the world on the theft and Perug­gia’s life sto­ry.–august-21–1911,c9148515
    The Lou­vre was not closed on a Mon­day because of a hol­i­day.
    It was closed every Mon­day for clean­ing and gen­er­al main­te­nance. (Today the Lou­vre is closed on a Tues­day for the same rea­son. We shot in the Lou­vre on a Tues­day and saw how few work­ers there were.)

    Three men did not hide in a clos­et on Sun­day night and did not exit the Lou­vre at 7 am.
    The leg­end of the three men and the clos­et came from a 1932 arti­cle in the Sat­ur­day Evening Post writ­ten by a for­mer Hearst jour­nal­ist named Karl Deck­er. Deck­er claimed that the theft was a con­spir­a­cy to sell Mona Lisa forg­eries. Three men were required to steal the paint­ing because she weighed near­ly 220 pounds. Many peo­ple have played “tele­phone” with this sto­ry so today it comes across as fact but it isn’t.

    We have exam­ined Decker’s sto­ry and his back­ground exten­sive­ly and believe his sto­ry to be an utter fab­ri­ca­tion. We have also found what we believe are the arti­cles that Deck­er used for his research – includ­ing one about the Mona Lisa’s weight. The Chief Sci­en­tist of the Lou­vre, Michel Menu, told me that the wood­en pan­el of the Mona Lisa weighs mere­ly 2 kilos or about 4.6 pounds. The Mona Lisa and frame includ­ing the glass can be car­ried by one man. In fact, Vin­cent Delieu­vin, the Lou­vre cura­tor in charge of the Mona Lisa told me that he has car­ried her that way him­self.

    One man Vin­cen­zo Perug­gia entered the Lou­vre on that Mon­day at 7 am.
    He sim­ply blend­ed in with the oth­er work­ers. There was no need to hide overnight. Because there was no real secu­ri­ty at the time he could enter the muse­um with ease. He was famil­iar with the Lou­vre because he had worked there.

    He was dressed in a workman’s smock which painters and work­ers of the day often wore. He was out of the Lou­vre 30–40 min­utes lat­er. A shop clerk named Andre Bou­quet who was on his way to work saw a man car­ry­ing a wrapped “pack­age” under his arm throw some­thing into a lit­tle ditch next to the Lou­vre. It was a door­knob from an inte­ri­or door that Perug­gia had removed, think­ing he could exit the muse­um through that door. Bou­quet couldn’t give a good descrip­tion of Perug­gia because he was across the street and behind Perug­gia.

    The Mona Lisa was not in a glass case
    The Mona Lisa and 1600 oth­er paint­ings were put behind glass because of recent van­dal­ism to sev­er­al of the mas­ter­pieces. (It was a huge under­tak­ing, more than the 2 Lou­vre framers could han­dle. A com­pa­ny named Gob­ier who did the glaz­ing work at the Lou­vre was brought in to help. Because he was a trust­ed work­er with the com­pa­ny, Perug­gia was one of 5 men assigned to cut and clean the glass He worked Novem­ber 1909 to Jan­u­ary 1910 and again from Novem­ber 1910 to Jan­u­ary 1911. He became very knowl­edge­able of the ins and outs of the muse­um.

    There was no large bulge in anyone’s jack­et and it wasn’t cov­ered with a blan­ket.
    Although con­sid­ered a small paint­ing, the Mona Lisa is approx­i­mate­ly 21x30 inch­es. Perug­gia was 5’3”. The paint­ing would be too large to stuff under a coat or a smock. (I tried it with a repli­ca of the paint­ing my daugh­ter who is Peruggia’s height.) Perug­gia had no blan­ket with him. Why did he need to? He sim­ply took off his smock and wrapped it around the paint­ing. The blan­ket sto­ry comes from a news­pa­per arti­cle where some­one saw a man car­ry­ing some­thing under a blan­ket and board­ing a train. The man was lat­er found. It wasn’t Perug­gia and he didn’t have the Mona Lisa.

    Two years in a trunk
    Perug­gia says he built the trunk in the win­ter of 1911. So for the first few months, he said it was hid­den on a table in his room cov­ered by a cloth or in his 6x6 clos­et, turned to the wall so it looked like a piece of wood. One can assume it was there in the clos­et in Novem­ber 1911 when an Inspec­tor of the Surete came to Peruggia’s room to ques­tion him.

    Perug­gia also admit­ted giv­ing the paint­ing to his friend Vin­cen­zo Lan­cel­lot­ti to hold for 6 weeks. Vin­cen­zo Lan­cel­lot­ti and his broth­er Michele are often cit­ed as Peruggia’s accom­plices. Although Perug­gia said he did tell Lan­cel­lot­ti of his inten­tion to take the paint­ing and he did show, and then give it to Lan­cel­lot­ti after­wards, Lan­cel­lot­ti denied involve­ment. The Lan­cel­lot­tis were arrest­ed but sub­se­quent­ly released with­out charges.

    We inter­viewed the nephew of Michele Lan­cel­lot­ti in Italy. He tells a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent sto­ry which is enter­tain­ing but not backed by any proof. This sto­ry is in my film.

    Picas­so was not arrest­ed
    His good friend, the poet Apol­li­naire was arrest­ed. Picas­so was mere­ly ques­tioned because he, unknow­ing­ly, had stolen stat­ues from the Lou­vre in his pos­ses­sion. Apol­li­naire spent 8 days in jail.

    Perug­gia tried to sell the paint­ing and an expert from a local gallery was called in to exam­ine it
    Perug­gia did admit he want­ed to be com­pen­sat­ed for return­ing the paint­ing to Italy and the record does show that he did have mon­ey in mind. The expert from the “local gallery” was Gio­van­ni Pog­gi, the Direc­tor of the Uffizi – Florence’s famous art muse­um. Perug­gia want­ed the Mona Lisa returned there. Pog­gi, the art deal­er Alfre­do Geri and Perug­gia took the paint­ing to the Uffizi. Pog­gi called his supe­ri­or in Rome to come and authen­ti­cate the paint­ing. Once it was, Perug­gia was arrest­ed the next day.

    This ground­break­ing doc­u­men­tary will right 100 years of erro­neous his­to­ry and for the first time present both an his­tor­i­cal­ly accu­rate pre­sen­ta­tion about the facts sur­round­ing the theft and Vin­cen­zo Perug­gia’s life sto­ry. Medeiros has exam­ined over 1,500 pri­ma­ry source doc­u­ments to estab­lish the truth about Perug­gia and the great­est lit­tle known art crime in his­to­ry. He also has the last inter­view every giv­en by Perug­gia’s only daugh­ter, Celesti­na Perug­gia. Medeiros went to see her to learn about her father, but dis­cov­ered she knew less about him that he did. He died at her feet when she was a tod­dler. She gave Medeiros her bless­ing to bring her the truth about her fathers life and his unthink­able theft. At the end of the film, Perug­gia’s true motives are revealed to both Celesti­na and the world. Celesti­na Perug­gia passed away in March 2011, but she is rest­ing in peace know­ing the truth about her father will final­ly be told in Medeiros’ doc­u­men­tary, THE MISSING PIECE.

    I sug­gest you con­tact Guy Raz and NPR to let them know they are pre­sent­ing FALSE, SENSATIONALIZED HISTORY. For such an esteemed news out­let, it is dis­heart­en­ing to know they did not check their facts before air­ing this sto­ry.

    Jus­tine Medeiros
    Exec­u­tive Pro­duc­er,
    The Miss­ing Piece

  • Eileen White says:

    the sto­ry of the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Lou­vre in 1911 is one that inter­ests many, many peo­ple. To show your sup­port for the True His­to­ry of that event, please take down your link to the NPR sto­ry. Write a blog entry about Joe Medeiros’ doc­u­men­tary instead. You have been priv­i­leged to receive an ear­ly pre­view of the real facts pre­sent­ed in the film. Use them to your advan­tage. (I am a Senior Researcher and Trans­la­tor for Joe Medeiros’ film)

  • rhinoplasty says:

    Leonar­do da Vin­ci is one of a kind and a famous painter that we have heard after his for­ma­tion of Mona Lisa, it is pret­ty clear that over 5 mil­lion vis­i­tors in a year, this is very inter­est­ing to every­one else that his pas­sion has exist through­out of this hand­i­work with Mona Lisa cre­ation. I real­ly want to pro­voke about the full sto­ry on how Mona Lisa paint has been swoop.

  • decimo says:

    Does Mona Lisa deserve her mus­tache? An eru­dite review of 180 pre- and post-Duchamp car­i­ca­tures and mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tions.
    Lin­guist, semi­oti­cian and art his­to­ri­an, Marc Déci­mo is Senior Lec­tur­er in French Lin­guis­tics at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Orléans and Regent of the Col­lege of ‘Pat­a­physics (Chair of Lit­er­ary, Ethno­graph­i­cal and Archi­tec­tur­al Amor­i­og­ra­phy). He is the edi­tor of Lydie Fis­ch­er Sarazin-Lev­as­sor’s mem­o­ries with Mar­cel Duchamp, and of Bris­set’s com­plete works. He pub­lished around twen­ty books on fous lit­téraires and his­tor­i­cal avant-gardes, includ­ing an essay on Bris­set (Jean-Pierre Bris­set — Prince des Penseurs), and numer­ous books on Duchamp: Duchamp mis à nu (“Duchamp laid bare”), Duchamp facile (“Duchamp made easy”)…

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.