22 Oct Have you ever wondered why the Mona Lisa was the most famous work of art in history?
The Mona Lisa, a face that attracts every year, more than 7 millions visitors to the Louvre Museum in Paris, is also the most recognizable face on the planet! In fact, she does appear on numberless movies and tv shows, as well as countless and various forms of parodies, souvenirs and also in art books of every language, etc… She’s seen everywhere!
According to USATODAY.com, Mona Lisa is “a readable and affectionate my-search-for-story for art lovers and anyone interested in glorious and gory Florence in the fifteenth to sixteenth centuries, and in the divine Leonardo in particular…Hales’s assiduous research has made it possible for us to know Mona Lisa just a bit, enough to wonder if this otherwise ordinary Florentine housewife could ever have imagined her portrait enchanting millions for centuries”.
‘Mona Lisa – A life discovered’, by Dianne Hales.
“The Mona Lisa… Why did Leonardo da Vinci lavish three years on a painting of the second wife of an unimportant merchant when all the nobles of Europe were begging for a portrait by his hand?No one knows for sure. But this story of Leonardo, his wayward apprentice Salai, and the Duke of Milan’s plain young wife, Beatrice d’Este, may hold the clue to the most famous — and puzzling — painting of all time.”
If you’ve had the chance to see the painting from up close, you’ll realise its size is actually smaller than what you could’ve ever imagined. (30’’X21’’), and even though it’s a work of art of the renown Leonardo Da Vinci, it’s not as impressive or as large as most of the other Renaissance pieces of art. When in 1797, the Mona Lisa painting was for the first time hung, it was exhibited on a wall along with many other paintings, unlike it is today, by itself, protected and under the spotlight.
Then, what made it so worldwide famous?
Well, it all began on a Monday morning,(on the 21st of August 1911) when Vincenzo Peruggia, a poor italian migrant worker, left the museum unseen with the Mona Lisa painting stuck under his arm, wrapped up in his coat, after unframing it. He was a carpenter and now and then he was hired to put on the protective glass cases of the paintings at the museum so it wasn’t unusual to see him there, doing some job on very pricey and splendid pieces of art. He was the one that actually put the glass covering on the Mona Lisa painting itself a year ago.
So, why did he choose to steal the Mona Lisa?
In order to understand his act, you’ll have to know that Vincenzo Peruggia was a patriot.
He erroneously thought that the Mona Lisa had been robbed from Italy during the Napoleonic era and he was convinced that it was his duty to return the painting to its homeland.
For two years, it was believed that Vincenzo Peruggia had it all planned.
Knowing the Museum was closed for cleaning on Mondays, he would just have to spend Sunday night hidden, so he could securely leave the museum, unnoticed, the following morning with the painting.
Nevertheless, it didn’t happen this way! During his interrogation in 1993, he confessed that he simply entered the museum on Monday as a worker, then removed the painting off the wall, took the service staircase, got rid of the frame and the glass case and simply headed out…
Photographers often came to take pictures of the paintings, and to do so, they had them taken off the wall. When on the following day security guards couldn’t find the Mona Lisa painting, they knew it had been stolen.
Back in his apartment, trying his best to hide the Mona Lisa, Peruggia would have never thought his robbery would change the course of art history forever.
In the meantime, an investigation was opened by the police to retrieve the missing painting
For about two years, detectives and police forces in France, but also all over the world looked for the stolen Mona Lisa. The story of the robbery extended mostly through newspapers, it even made the headline of The New York Times!
Among the many suspects questioned by the police during the investigation was the renowned poet Guillaume Apollinaire. Indeed, the latter was in possession of a multitude of small statues he had previously stolen from the Louvre, which led the police to think that this suspect could also be the author of the robbery of the Mona Lisa.
After further investigation, during Apollinaire’s interrogation regarding the Mona Lisa and the several stolen statues, they found out that a young spanish artist and friend, Pablo Picasso might have also been involved in those crimes.
It is said that both Apollinaire and Picasso cried during the interrogation, which soon enough led the police to believe neither of them was the person they were after.
Meanwhile, back at the Museum…
The day after the painting was stolen, the Museum closed for a whole week. But as soon as it reopened its door to the public, a crowd of curious people gathered to see where the missing painting used to be exhibited. Everywhere, everyone knew the face of the Mona Lisa — that stunning heist of the little painting was all over the international newspapers, with their sensational headlines, searching for the Mona Lisa as if she was a missing person, not a painting…
The Mona Lisa, and no other…
If Vincenzo Peruggia had chosen to rob another painting, then this one would have probably become the most notorious artwork, and the Mona Lisa would have just stayed a Renaissance piece of art created by a renowned Leonardo Da Vinci, in a frame hung on a wall among many others,
Because of the robbery, the Mona Lisa proved to be the very first artwork to be internationally seen and shared, when means of communication were just at a starting point.
The Mona Lisa…
In the meantime, Peruggia was planning on selling the artwork to any italian art gallery, but he had to be cautious! The face of the Mona Lisa was now famous, and there was no doubt he would get caught and arrested if he had tried to sell it.
That’s why the painting stayed in Peruggia’s possession for two years, hidden in a trunk by his bed, in his small apartment in Paris.
It’s finally in 1913, that Vincenzo Peruggia started to lose patience. He’d been contacting several art galleries and having been rejected by all of them, at last an art dealer in Florence named Alfredo Geri, accepted to see the painting. Gerri gets a letter in December 1913, it was written in Italian but it was from France and it said: ‘I have the Mona Lisa in my possession and I’d like to sell it to you at a 25% discount because you’re italian, Signed Leonardo V.”. Geri needed to make sure the Mona Lisa was authentic. To do so, he asked to meet him in person at his hotel. There, the so-called Leonardo–Peruggia in fact–pulls out from under his bed a case with a false bottom, wrapped up in a red velvet fabric, what seemed to be the Mona Lisa!!!
Geri tells him they all have go back to the Uffizi Gallery for authentication, and that he’ll get his reward if it turns out to be the original one. But instead, as soon as Peruggia left, Geri contacted the police.
At last, back in his hotel in Florence, the art thief was arrested, and the Mona Lisa was safely returned to the Louvre Museum, putting an end to the most sensational crime that had the world rock!
The Mona Lisa is not just the most famous image in the world, it is also the most reproduced.
As a direct result of the theft, the Mona Lisa has become the most expensive piece of art in the world, if in 1953, the painting was insured for a 100 million dollars, today it’s come out to 2.5 billion!!!! By stealing the Mona Lisa, Vincenzo Peruggia unwittingly created an international icon!!!
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Click the link below to watch the full hour documentary on the heist of the Mona Lisa: