Stealing the Mona Lisa: The Art Theft of the Century

The Mona Lisa. Over 6 million people see this painting at
The Louvre each year. Of course, getting a picture of it while covered
in bullet proof glass and surrounded by hundreds of people is nearly impossible. What if I told you this painting is famous
not because DaVinci painted it, or because of that smile she has? What if I told you it has to do with one of
the most fascinating art heists the world has ever seen, but few people have ever heard
about. (music playing) The year was 1911, and it was really hot and
humid in Paris, which you would probably expect for Monday, August 21st. The night before three men had snuck into
the The Louvre and hidden overnight in a narrow storeroom. These three men were Vincenzo Perugia, and
his brothers Lancelotti, and Michele. All three Italian, and all three on a rescue
mission. Or, so they thought! Early in the morning they put on white workmen
smocks and headed to the Salon Carré. I know what you’re already thinking. Wait, I thought the Mona Lisa was in its own
gallery behind bulletproof glass surrounded by hordes of tourists? Nope, not at all. In fact, the Mona Lisa was in a huge gallery
along with many other pieces. That morning the three Italians rip the painting
off the wall, take off the glass shadow box and frame, then Perugia hides it under his
clothes. Next thing you know they snuck down a hidden
stairwell and out a side entrance into the streets of Paris. In no time at all, The Mona Lisa was gone. You would think alarms would go off, guards
would be at ready, police called immediately! But, you would be wrong. It took over 26 hours before anyone ever noticed
she was missing! Keep in mind, this is 1911, in what was then
the world’s largest building, and security was pretty weak with little more than 150
guards. Stuff often went missing, and a lot of works
got damaged. At the time, the Mona Lisa was far from the
most visited painting in the Louvre. DaVinci painted it in 1507, and it took until
1860 for an art critic to finally decide it was a fine example of Renaissance art. Even then, it still wasn’t a popular painting. But, even though it wasn’t in its own gallery,
it wasn’t off the museum’s radar. One year prior in 1910, the museum was mailed
a letter from Vienna threatening the Mona Lisa. Museum officials hired a professional to put
about a dozen famous paintings under glass, including the Mona Lisa. The man who did the work was Vincenzo Perugia,
who happened to grow up in a village north of Milan, Italy. Name sound familiar? Stealing the Mona Lisa made sense for Perugia. Most paintings that were stolen often went
into a secret pipeline where you might barter for drugs, weapons, or other items. And trust me, Perugia definitely had the necessary criminal connections. But, by late Tuesday after the robbery was
discovered, there was a media explosion, not just in Paris, but in newspapers around the
world! Crowds flooded at police headquarters. Not so much because people loved the Mona
LIsa, but a theft from the Louvre, which was run by the French government gave newspapers the chance to poke fun at them, and they took it! At this point the Mona Lisa was way too hot
to sell or trade. Perugia didn’t just steal an Italian painting, he took the Mona Lisa, which had now become the world’s most famous painting. Perugia had hidden the painting in a false
bottom of a wooden trunk in his room. The following November police questioned him asking why he was late to work that Monday morning? Perugia simply said he was drunk the night
before and slept in. Police bought the lie and guess who they arrested
instead? Pablo Picasso! No worries, he was quickly released soon after. In December 1913, 28 months later, Perugia
left his boardinghouse with his trunk and took a train to Florence, Italy. He tried to sell the painting to an art dealer,
but the dealer quickly called the police. Perugia pled guilty and served only eight
months in prison. Now an international celebrity, the Mona Lisa
returned to the Louvre following exhibitions around Italy. Within the first 2 days over 100,000 people
came to see it! That brings us back to today, where millions
now flock to see this painting. A lot of people now question if this painting
is really that good? Maybe? Or, is a painting only great when enough people
collectively believe it is? As for the Mona Lisa, those eyes are definitely
doing something, and that smoky, sfumato technique DaVinci used to paint them was definitely
revolutionary. But, I say it’s not his best work. In fact, if you go see the Mona Lisa be sure
to step just outside the gallery where several other DaVinci pieces are hanging
with no one around them, of course. Until next time, be Artrageous!


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