“Mona Lisa”: The Story of a Stolen Masterpiece

"Portrait of Madame Lisa del Giocondo", Leonardo da Vinci, ok.1503-1505gg. Louvre, Paris, France


August 22, 1911, from the Louvre, disappeared the famous “La Gioconda” by Leonardo da Vinci. In the theft, the famous poet Apollinaire was suspected, whose accomplice, allegedly, was Picasso himself.

We will tell about the love story that happened between the poor Italian glazier and the most famous woman in the world – Gioconda. Because the glazier fell in love with her smile, which reminded him of the “smile of his childhood friend”. Because of this very smile, the glazier stole the picture, and then admired her all alone for two years.

Vincenzo Perugia (the name of the glazier) also claimed that, having stolen the painting, he committed an act of patriotism, bringing a young woman to the country where she was born. By this act, again with his words, he protested, against the thefts that Napoleon had committed in Italy. Whatever it was, two years later, when he tried to sell the painting, he was seized. But in those two years that the “Gioconda” was not in its usual place, in France, almost a national catastrophe broke out. Up to the point that even the famous poet Apollinaire was suspected of her theft …

"Mona Lisa": The Story of a Stolen Masterpiece
“Mona Lisa in the Louvre”, Louis Biru, 1911. Louvre, Paris, France

The fact that the Gioconda was stolen, it became known on August 22, 1911, in the morning, when the artist Louis Biru, who wanted to make a copy of it, discovered that she was not in the usual place. This did not bother him at all, he even joked with the guard in the hall: “When women are not next to men in love with them, it means that they are posing for the photographers at this moment.” But returning to eleven o’clock, Beru found that the Gioconda was still not there. He sent a guard to the Louvre photographer to find out when he’d finished shooting, but the photographer said he did not take the picture. Panic struck. They stole the Gioconda! Police Prefect Lepin arrived, accompanied by the head of the security service Arnar and sixty inspectors. For a whole week this brigade was combing the museum literally millimeter. But I could not find the Gioconda!

"Mona Lisa": The Story of a Stolen Masterpiece
The place where Leonardo da Vinci’s La Gioconda hung in the Louvre. 1911g. The Photo

The only evidence was the fingerprint left on the newly installed protective glass. They called Alfonso Bertillon, so that he could compare the left imprint with the prints of 257 employees of the Louvre. No matches were found. No one even suspects the master who installed the glass. Because of the scandal, the Louvre director resigns. The press is rampaging, pushing thousands of versions. The extreme right sees in the theft a ghost of a Jewish conspiracy. One newspaper expresses the idea that behind all this is the German emperor. “The Community of the Friends of the Louvre” awards a prize of 25,000 francs to the one who will find the picture. The newspaper “Illustration” doubles the amount. In vain. The investigation is at an impasse. The investigating judge swears that he does not have anything!

This kidnapping makes the “Gioconda” even more popular than before. The Louvre line up, just to see the empty space. In the Parisian cabaret girls dance, wearing the face of the mask “Mona Lisa”. The song dedicated to “Gioconda” has a huge success. “Mona Lisa” becomes a real star, almost like now Madonna, true, dressed …

"Mona Lisa": The Story of a Stolen Masterpiece
Guillaume Apollinaire, French poet. 1880-1918gg. The photo

Suddenly, the news appears like a bolt from the blue: on September 7, police search the cell in the cell of the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who is in the prison of Santa. Is he the kidnapper of the Mona Lisa? Well, it’s a joke. True, a few years ago he was associated with someone who had stolen something there, in the Louvre. In fact, somewhere in 1904, Apollinaire associated with a strange type – a thief and a patologic liar by the Belgian Géry Pierre, whom he makes his secretary. In general, this Pierre August 28, 1911 appears in the newspaper “Paris-Magazine” with the head of a woman and claims that in 1904 he stole it in the Louvre. The next day a huge article appears in the newspaper about this, and the head is taken to the Louvre.

How to get out of the situation?


"Mona Lisa": The Story of a Stolen Masterpiece
Pablo Picasso, a Spanish artist, sculptor, designer. 1881-1973.

After reading the article, Apollinaire became covered with a cold sweat. Indeed, in 1904, Pierre sold him Phoenician primitive figurines, allegedly stolen in the Louvre. He also said: “I stole them in the Louvre, but this is nonsense, they were not protected there.” The same figurines, he sold and Picasso. Both the poet and the artist, considering that this is a joke, only laughed. Picasso was even so inspired by these statuettes that in 1907 he painted them in his painting, which he called “The Girls from Avignon.” In a word, both the poet and the artist had these Phoenician figurines to this day. What to do with them? Moreover, in the Louvre, after the inventory after the theft of the Gioconda, they stated that along with the picture, about a hundred more exhibits disappeared.

Both “stolen merchants” first decide to throw the statuettes in the Seine, but Apollinaire, who directs the entire “operation”, can not decide to part with the good. Then, on September 6, he anonymously sends these figurines to the “Paris-Magazine”, in which the art historian, his friend André Salmon, works. The newspaper passes them to the Louvre. But the police are quickly spinning this case and going to Apollinaire, conducting a search at his home, and then, on September 7, he arrests and sends to Sante. Does the investigating judge Driou really think that the “La Gioconda” belongs to Apollinaire? Probably not. Just for want of anything better, he wants to blame him for concealing stolen statues. However, too much noise due to the arrest of the poet, and on September 12, Drio releases him from custody.

"Mona Lisa": The Story of a Stolen Masterpiece
The investigation is again at an impasse. The feeling that the Gioconda just evaporated. And suddenly, two years later, in December 1913, she pops up in Florence. And, also unexpectedly, as well as disappeared. One seller of Italian art receives a letter from a certain Vincenzo Leonard, who offers to buy his “Gioconda”. Not believing this, he warns the director of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, just in case, and asks him to go with him to the Florentine Hotel “Tripoli”, where Leonard made the appointment. They meet, Leonard shows a picture, and what does the salesman see with the director? The Da Vinci Script! Both men immediately flee to the police, which arrested a mysterious seller. He admits that his real name is Vincenzo Perugia and that it was he who installed the protective glass from the Gioconda in 1911. Perugia admits of the theft and says that he wanted to return the “beautiful Italian” to his country.

"Mona Lisa": The Story of a Stolen Masterpiece

Return of the “Gioconda” to the Louvre. 1914g.
In short, this kidnapping was like a child’s play. On Monday, August 21, the day when the Louvre is closed, he imperceptibly passes into the museum along with the rest of the workers. Then he goes to the “Carre” hall, where the picture hangs, removes it and takes it out of the frame in a secluded corner. No one pays any attention to him, and he freely moves around the museum. Hiding the picture under the folding table, on which the glazier cuts his glass, he accepts his usual work. When the theft is discovered, the inspector will interrogate him, not suspecting that this modest employee is the kidnapper. For two whole years, Perugia has been silent about the Gioconda, like a fish. Up to its unsuccessful attempt to sell the painting in Florence.

"Mona Lisa": The Story of a Stolen Masterpiece

Louvre, Paris, France. The photo
He is sentenced to just one year in prison, but a few months later Perugia is already at large. And many Italians admire him, considering him a national hero. The international situation is tense, but Italy still sends the “Gioconda” to the Louvre. January 4, 1914 “Mona Lisa” hung on its usual hook.

"Mona Lisa": The Story of a Stolen Masterpiece
Louvre, Paris, France.


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