Mona Lisa The Lady Vanishes

The story behind the theft 100 years ago today 1911-2011

On the 21 August 1911, an Italian workman named Vincenzo Peruggia stole the Mona Lisa, in broad daylight, from the Louvre. The result of the theft, catapulted the reputation of the painting, making it the most famous work of art in history.
A feature film has now been made to document the disappearance of this work of art and the motives behind the theft. It is thought on the 22 August 1911 Peruggia crossed over to the Salon Carré, where the Mona Lisa was on display, removed it from the four iron wall pegs and hid the painting in a broom closet later walking out of the building at the end of the day, with it hidden under his coat. The painting left a gap between Correggio’s Mystical Marriage and Titian’s Allegory of Alfonso d’Avalos, which went unnoticed until the next morning. The theft took place on a Monday when the museum was closed. On discovery of the missing painting, The museum was shut and slowly let out the visitors until they could continue the search. It was finally determined that the Mona Lisa had been stolen.The Louvre was than closed for an entire week to aid the investigation. When it was reopened, a line of people had come to solemnly stare at the empty space on the wall, where the Mona Lisa had once hung. An anonymous visitor left a bouquet of flowers.

With the help of Peruggia’s 84-year-old daughter Celestina, this latest documentary has recreated the steps taken by Peruggia 100 years ago. Original police files and court documents in France and Italy also help to put the puzzle back together. The flat where Peruggia lived and kept the painting for over two years was traced, a visit to the hotel room where Peruggia was arrested, the prison where he was held in Florence as well as the letters he wrote to his parents shortly after he stole the Mona Lisa.
Peruggia’s real motive for stealing the Mona Lisa is revealed in the documentary “The Missing Piece: The Truth About the Man Who Stole the Mona Lisa” an 88-minute film about this engaging story which will be screened in Philadelphia on Sunday August 21, the 100th anniversary of the theft. It is thought the crime was prompted by the bullying  he suffered at the Louvre where he worked as a part time employee. He was nicknamed Macaroni and tormented and teased because of his Italian heritage. 

The French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who had once called for the Louvre to be “burnt down,” came under suspicion; he was arrested and put in jail. Apollinaire tried to implicate his friend Pablo Picasso, who was also brought in for questioning, but both were later exonerated. Peruggia was an Italian patriot who believed Leonardo’s painting should be returned to Italy to an Italian museum. He believed that Napoleon had looted Italy’s art treasures when it was conquered and that all the Italian art in the Louvre was there illegally stolen. He also had personal motives and a grudge against the staff at the Louvre where he was a part-time employee. The Mona Lisa was small and easy to carry therefore a perfect target. It is also thought that he may have been motivated by a friend who sold copies of the painting, which increased in value after the theft of the original. The painting was kept in his apartment for two years, after which he grew impatient and was finally caught when he attempted to sell it to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
The painting was exhibited all over Italy and returned to the Louvre in 1913. Peruggia was hailed for his patriotism in Italy and only served six months in jail for the crime.

“The Missing Piece: The Truth About the Man Who Stole the Mona Lisa” an 88-minute film   Screened in Philadelphia  Sunday August 21

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