Did you know that the Mona Lisa has already been

Did you know that the “Mona Lisa” has already been stolen from the Louvre? See why the thief became a national hero

October 8 marked the anniversary of the birth and also the death of the Italian painter who made perhaps the biggest mistake in the history of art regression. Vincenzo Peruggia, the man who stole them mona lisa from France and brought it back to Italy, was born in 1881 and died in 1925.

Although he erred as a historian and arbiter of provenance the painting had clearly and neatly been bought by the King of France, the country to which it was eventually returned it is worth remembering Peruggia’s skills at a time in where repatriation remains an obscure battlefield.

Every week, it seems, investigators report new seizures of antiquities looted from museums and private collections. Home countries are happy when works and works are returned. Collectors and museums complain that the concept of stolen art is constantly being redefined, at their expense and perhaps at the public’s expense as well.

the marbles of Mr Thomas Elgin belong to Greece or stay in London? Should the Lions of St. Mark in Venice Cathedral be returned to Turkey?

Image of the 'Mona Lisa', Leonardo da Vinci's masterpieceImage of the ‘Mona Lisa’, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece Photo: Reproduction

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Peruggia, for its part, became a national hero in Italy when Leonardo da Vinci’s lost masterpiece was finally found there.

“Grateful Italians hailed the thiefhero as Italy’s Don Quixote,” wrote RA Scotti in his book Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of the Mona Lisa (2009).

To date, Peruggia’s motivation has not been proven. The details of the spectacular robbery are still incomplete. But that seems well known: by the early 20th century, Da Vinci’s 1506 halflength portrait of the Florentine noblewoman Lisa del Giocondo (‘Mona’ in Italian, meaning noblewoman or aristocrat), the wife of a silk merchant, was already gone. one of the most famous paintings in the world.

To protect it from vandals, it was reassembled in the Louvre’s Salon Carré in Paris in a protective glass case that Peruggia, a house painter and glazier who worked at the museum, may have helped make.

The day of the raid, August 21, 1911, was a Monday. The Louvre was closed for maintenance. Peruggia hid in a warehouse overnight or sneaked into the museum with other workers in the morning.

As guards assigned to the gallery made their rounds or worked as janitors, Peruggia, alone or with accomplices, removed the nearly 200pound framed and glazed painting from the wall and dragged it up a flight of stairs. According to many newspapers and other reports of the theft, he carefully removed the portrait Da Vinci had painted on a 30by21inch, 18pound poplar board.

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The identity card of Vincenzo Peruggia, who, for reasons of nationalism or money, took the 'Mona Lisa' out of the Louvre and brought it to Italy in 1911The identity card of Vincenzo Peruggia, who, for reasons of nationalism or money, took the “Mona Lisa” out of the Louvre and brought it to Italy in 1911 Photo: The New York Times

With the help of a plumber he found, he managed to unlock an exit door, tuck the painting under the arm of his white work apron, and take it to his onebedroom hotel apartment on the rue de l’Hôpital SaintLouis, not far from the Gare de l’Est in the 10th arrondissement ​​where he hid it in a suitcase.

No one noticed that the painting was gone until artist Louis Béroud arrived the next day to sketch his Mona Lisa au Louvre and found four empty hooks in its place.

Guards thought the portrait had been temporarily removed to be photographed during a routine inventory. However, late in the morning, after speaking to the onsite photographer, museum staff panicked.

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Hundreds of visitors were led out. Investigators combed the miles of galleries. They found the Italian frame of the painting on the stairs. A broken doorknob was discovered in a garden in front of the museum. But the Mona Lisa was gone, leaving no trace.

The theft was the main story in the New York Times the next day. Embarrassed museum officials speculated as to who and what was behind the robbery. They suggested that the painting could have no value on the open market a work too hot to trade unless requested by a very wealthy private collector.

Or perhaps the thief intended to anonymously return a very good fake to the museum and offer nearperfect copies for sale as the original. Or maybe the unprecedented theft was a daring stunt of cultural sabotage by modern artists.

Raphael's portrait of Baldassare Castiglione took the place of the Raphael’s Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione replaced the ‘Mona Lisa’ when the painting was stolen Photo: Reproduction

The French police even questioned Pablo Picasso. He had previously used several Iberian stone figures stolen from the Louvre by a friend of a friend, the avantgarde poet Guillaume Apollinaire, as models for his 1907 painting Demoiselles d’Avignon. (Apollinaire spent a few days in prison, the only person arrested by French authorities in the Mona Lisa case.)

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Jean Théophile Homolle, director of the National Museums, who was on vacation when the Mona Lisa disappeared, scoffed at the idea that the painting could have been stolen and, worst of all, lost.

“You could also imagine,” he said, “that someone could rob the towers of Notre Dame.” He got fired.

Stolen or not, the painting was gone. A colored reproduction was hung in its place. Then, in December 1912, a more substantial replacement, Baldassare Castiglione’s Portrait, a Man, by raphael, took the place of Da Vinci’s painting. The investigation remained open, but hopes of recovering the Italian’s masterpiece faded.

While the painting remained in Peruggia’s suitcase for two years, the thief’s letters suggested several motives, chief among them money rather than nationalism.

In December 1911 he wrote to a relative who was convinced he would make his fortune in Paris, prophesying that prosperity would “come immediately”. A year later, he wrote home, “I swear you will live long and enjoy the prize your son will receive for you and our entire family.”

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Police questioned Pablo Picasso, who had previously used figures stolen from the Louvre as a model in a painting.Police questioned Pablo Picasso, who had previously used statuettes stolen from the Louvre as models in the painting.

Whatever his family was hoping for maybe some money or a reward, a lucky bet, a ransom Peruggia himself was growing impatient.

He returned to Italy with the painting and hid it in his apartment in Florence, where Alfredo Geri, an antiques dealer, received a letter from Paris on November 29, 1913. It read: “The stolen work of Leonardo da Vinci is in my possession. It appears to belong to Italy as its painter was Italian.” The person who signed the letter was a certain “Leonardo”.

After Geri contacted Giovanni Poggi, the director of the Florentine gallery Degli Uffizi, he replied to the letter and on December 10, a mustachioed man, about 1.50 m tall, posing as “Leonardo”, entered Geri’s shop . He asked for $100,000 in expenses and offered to show Geri and Poggi the painting in his room at the Hotel TripoliItalia.

Peruggia was later imprisoned in the hotel where he was staying, but became a hero of his hometown.

Suffering from lead poisoning, probably due to his work as a painter, he served seven months in prison before being released and returned to his hotel (which was renamed La Gioconda, since that is where the painting was found). He later moved to Paris, where he died in 1925 on his 44th birthday.

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Leonardo Da Vinci's Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” on display at the Louvre in Paris Photo: PHILIPPE WOJAZER / Portal

But months after her recovery, the Mona Lisa toured Italy triumphantly, cheering the crowds. Members of Italy’s parliament wanted to keep it, but the country’s education minister graciously agreed to return it to the Louvre.

“Although the masterpiece is dear to all Italians as one of the best productions of the genius of their race, we will be happy to bring it back to its adopted country,” he said, “as a pledge of friendship and brotherhood between the two great Latino nations.”

The Mona Lisa would be “delivered to the French ambassador with a solemnity worthy of Leonardo da Vinci,” he added, “and a spirit of joy worthy of the Mona Lisa’s smile.”

On January 4, 1914, the painting was returned to the Louvre Museum. It now hangs in the museum’s largest room, the Salle des États, in front of Paolo Veronese’s The Wedding at Cana, the museum’s largest painting, which had actually been looted by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797 from the refectory of the monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice.

After the defeat of Napoleon, the French officers did not so much forgive Veronese. They refused to return the monumental canvas, saying it was too fragile for the return journey.

But in 1815, when Pope Pius VII settled the restitution demands, the French decided to give Italy a painting in return not The Wedding at Cana, but The Banquet at the House of Simon by Charles Le Brun.

Veronese’s work was apparently still “too fragile” to travel, although French conservatives later managed to remove it from its regular location in the Louvre twice when the nation was at war, in 1870 and 1939. / TRANSLATION BY LÍVIA BUELONI GONÇALVES