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How Vincenzo Peruggia made Mona Lisa the most famous painting in the world by stealing it from the Louvre

Goran Blazeski

You don’t have to be an art historian to be familiar with Mona Lisa. It’s the most famous painting in the world.

But why is this painting so popular? Maybe because it was painted by Leonardo da Vinci and maybe because of her mysterious smile.

It was painted in the early 16th century but it was made famous worldwide thanks to a daring burglary over 100 years ago. Vincenzo Peruggia was the man responsible for making the Mona Lisa what it is today.

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

Vincenzo Peruggia stole the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911. He never thought that what he did would make this painting the most recognizable painting on the planet.

He was hired by the Louvre to make protective glass cases for some its most famous works, among them the Mona Lisa. He thought that Napoleon had stolen the painting from Italy a century ago, and as a real Italian patriot, he wanted to bring the picture to Italy where it “belonged.” In reality, Leonardo da Vinci sold the painting to Francis I when he moved to France in order to become a court painter.

After hiding in a closet overnight, Vincenzo Peruggia took the painting and hid it under his smock. He was ready to leave the Louvre when he discovered that the door was locked.

 

Mug shot of Vincenzo Peruggia, who was believed to have stolen the Mona Lisa in 1911.

Mug shot of Vincenzo Peruggia, who was believed to have stolen the Mona Lisa in 1911.

Peruggia tried to remove the doorknob, but he was still not able to open the door until a plumber that was passing by opened the door with his key.

It took more than 24 hours before anyone even noticed that the Mona Lisa was missing. There were no alarms at that time and only 200 guards watching over the 400 rooms in the Louvre .

After it was discovered that the painting was missing, the police got to work, and the museum was shut down for a week amid a scandal.

Before Peruggia stole the painting, the Mona Lisa was just one of the famous paintings in the world but after this the Mona Lisa left its competitors far, far behind. The painting was on the front pages of newspapers everywhere in the world.

Mona Lisa behind bulletproof glass at the Louvre Museum. Photo Credit

Mona Lisa behind bulletproof glass at the Louvre Museum. Photo Credit

The New York Times reported: “PARIS, Aug. 23. – All day anxious crowds have been stationed in front of the Louvre, vainly hoping to hear that Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” had been found hidden somewhere in the museum. Nothing is known so far as to the whereabouts of the picture, and public feeling has turned from incredulity to the greatest indignation.”

It was also said that “60 detectives seek the stolen Mona Lisa.”

"La Joconde est Retrouvée" ("Mona Lisa is Found"), Le Petit Parisien, 13 December 1913

“La Joconde est Retrouvée” (“Mona Lisa is Found”), Le Petit Parisien, 13 December 1913

Two years later, Peruggia contacted art experts in Italy about selling the painting. He hid the painting for two years in a trunk in his apartment. He was arrested and sentenced to seven months in jail. He claimed that he stole the painting to return it to her native Italy.Today Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world and attracts around 10 million visitors to the Paris museum every year.

Here is another story from our art files: The early years of Picasso – he had to burn his own paintings for warmth in his freezing Paris apartment

Today, the Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world, and attracts around 10 million visitors to the Paris museum every year.