Getting Stolen and Going Viral..the Theft of the Mona Lisa


The police record of Vincenzo Peruggia who attempted to steal Leonardo de Vinci’s painting ‘The Mona Lisa’ in 1911, 25th January 1909. (Photo by Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

Did you know that the Mona Lisa was the medieval equivalent of going viral? And it is the main reason she is so popular today?

I have just finished a trip through Italy, France and the Netherlands. It was amazing, and France I LOVED. I did a walking tour of Paris, and heard this fabulous story about why the Mona Lisa is so famous. Because she has a story!

The Mona Lisa very famously was painted by Leonardo Da Vinci, and has been immortalised over the years by films and popular culture.

Stealing the Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa was the victim of a heist by workers of the Louvre in 1911. The Italian workers, Vincenzo Peruggia and the brothers Lancelotti, Vincenzo and Michele, stayed overnight in a broom cupboard. Vincenzo then walked out with the painting the next morning under his jacket.

26 hours went past before the Louvre realised the painting was missing. A few days passed, and finally the Louvre released a statement saying the painting had been stolen.

While things had gone missing from the Louvre before, the Louvre was enormously embarrassed to have lost a painting after the security was meant to be improved. The French newspapers of the day took delight in poking fun at the perceived ineptitude of the government, broadcasting the news across the nation.

Going Viral

Then…Mona Lisa went viral. For 2 years, the world followed the police investigation. Mona Lisa’s image and theft was splashed across local and international newspapers, and people queued to see the space where she used to hang while she was missing.

Vincenzo had quietly shimmied back to Italy. After 2 years, he attempted to sell it on the black market to an art dealer in Florence. The dealer asked him to come back the next day with the painting where he was promptly arrested.

Local Hero

Incredibly, the tale goes that he managed to talk his way out of a long jail term, as he said to authorities he was just returning what rightfully belong to Italy. Vincenzo became somewhat of a local hero, with the Mona Lisa being exhibited in Florence before being returned to the Louvre.

Voilà! What a fabulous story. I had never stopped to think about why the Mona Lisa is so famous. Here she is in 2018 – covered with protective glass and surrounded by tourists at the Louvre. I don’t think she will be stolen as easily again.


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