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The Man Who Stole the Mona Lisa


The masterwork by Leonardo da Vinci was stolen from Paris in 1911 by Vincenzo Peruggia, who then brought it to Florence. The theft\’s repatriation efforts were only partially successful. In January 1914, less than three years after it had been taken from the Louvre, the Mona Lisa made her way back to Paris. The Mona Lisa is, of course, a great work of art by a revered artist, Leonardo de Vinci, but his skills are not actually what made the painting famous. Mona Lisa’s true fame came after the painting was stolen. Today, she is the jewel in the Louvre’s crown, helping attract over 9.7 million visitors to the Paris museum last year, and immortalized in everything from Andy Warhol’s pop art to Dan Brown’s bestselling novel, “The Da Vinci Code.”But had Peruggia instead slipped another artwork under his cloak that fateful day, it could have been a very different story.


“If a different one of Leonardo’s works had been stolen, then that would have been the most famous work in the world – not the Mona Lisa,” said Noah Charney, professor of art history and author of “The Thefts of the Mona Lisa.”

“There was nothing that really distinguished it per se, other than it was an excellent work by a very famous artist – that’s until it was stolen,” he added. “The theft is what really skyrocketed its appeal and made it a household name.”

There are very few people in the world who died on their birthday. Vincenzo Peruggia an Italian museum worker, artist, and thief was one of them. He was born on October 8, 1881 and died on the same date October 8, in the year 1925. For Vincenzo Peruggia, it was a matter of patriotism. He mistakenly thought that the Mona Lisa had been stolen from Italy during the Napoleonic era and he believed that it was his job to return it to its home country. For his part, Peruggia would become a national hero in Italy when da Vinci’s missing masterpiece was finally found there. “Grateful Italians embraced the hero-thief as Italy’s Don Quixote,” R.A. Scotti wrote in “Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of the Mona Lisa”

The majority of stories of the crime state that the suspect lurked within the museum on Sunday night since he knew it would be closed on Monday, making it safe for him to steal the painting and leave. However, Peruggia claimed in his deposition two years later that he had simply entered the building on a Monday morning with other employees, waited until the gallery housing the Mona Lisa was vacant, removed the painting from the wall, wrapped it in his smock, and then left. In fact, it wasn\’t until the next day that the Louvre employees realised the painting was missing. It wasn\’t unusual for a painting to be gone from the wall because paintings were occasionally removed from walls so they could be photographed. However, when security checked with the photographers, they discovered that the painting had been stolen.


Peruggia returned to Italy with the picture after concealing it in a trunk in his apartment for two years. He kept it in his apartment in Florence, Italy for some time. Peruggia ultimately lost patience, though, and was apprehended when he got in touch with Mario Fratelli, the proprietor of a Florence art gallery. Although Fratelli\’s and Peruggia\’s accounts diverge, it is obvious that Peruggia anticipated receiving compensation for returning the picture to its \”homeland.\” Giovanni Poggi, director of the Uffizi Gallery, was contacted by Fratelli, who verified the painting\’s authenticity. After seizing the painting for \”safekeeping,\” Poggi and Fratelli notified the police, who detained Peruggia at his hotel.


Peruggia served in the Italian army during World War I after being released from prison. During the war, he was captured by Austria-Hungary and held as a POW for two years until the war ended and he was released. Later, he moved back to France and continued to work as a painter and decorator under the name Pietro Peruggia, which was his birth name. He passed away on October 8, 1925, his 44th birthday, in Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, a French suburb of Paris. His death in 1925 was not widely reported by the media at the time, possibly because he died under the name of Pietro Peruggia; obituaries appeared mistakenly only when another Vincenzo Peruggia died in Haute-Savoie in 1947.

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