Monday, February 18, 2008

Art Theft: The Mona Lisa

Sorry for the delayed posting. I'm in my fourth day of fever. I just can't seem to stay healthy. Anyhow, here it is.

Museums house some of the most valuable and recognizable items in the world. Because a given painting can be worth millions of dollars, thieves sometimes risk the dangers of getting caught stealing artwork so they can cash in. For the next few days I will be posting about art theft.

Sometimes the thief’s main goal in stealing a painting is not to make money. This was the case when, in 1911, Vincenzo Peruggia stole Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa from the Louvre in Paris. Peruggia, like da Vinci, was Italian, and he believed the Mona Lisa was an Italian treasure that should be kept in Italy.

So on August 21, 1911 he went to the Louvre (where he worked) and took the painting off the wall. The museum was closed that day for maintenance and the other workers assumed the Mona Lisa had been taken somewhere to be photographed or cleaned. Peruggia took the painting into the stairwell, took it out of the frame, and hid the masterpiece in his smock. He left the frame and glass in the stairwell and took the painting.

It wasn’t until the next day that the museum employees realized that the painting was missing. By that time, though, the painting was hidden and there was only a slim chance of finding it. There were many theories about who might have taken the painting and where it could be. The police even investigated Pablo Picasso because he was rumored to have bought stolen artwork and some people thought that might have included the Mona Lisa. Of course, he didn’t have the painting.

Two years later, Peruggia tried to sell the Mona Lisa to an art buyer, Alfredo Geri, who contacted the director of the Uffizi (a prominent Italian art museum). Peruggia was willing to sell the painting only if it would be hung in the Uffizi and never returned to France.

But it didn’t work out that way for Peruggia. The painting was returned to the Louvre, after being displayed briefly in Italy, and Peruggia went to prison.

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