Stealing the Mona Lisa

Apparently, in the days before alarms and video surveillance, you could get away with quite a lot. Like, say, stealing the Mona Lisa right off the wall in the Louvre, which happened exactly 100 years ago today.

Amazingly, one of the most famous paintings in the world was missing for a full day before anyone noticed. On August 22, painter Louis Berould headed into the gallery where the Mona Lisa had been on display for five years and noticed that there was a blank spot on the wall. He notified the man in charge of the guards, who was presumably fired for incompetance soon after. The head guard thought the painting was being photographed for PR purposes. This quickly turned out not to be the case, and the museum was shut down for a week while the theft was investigated.

The investigation focused on a poet named Guillaume Apollinaire, who was not at all a fan of the Louvre, and Guillame immediately pointed the finger at his friend, Pablo Picasso, for some reason. Both men were exonerated, and the painting was thought to be lost forever.

Luckily, the painting had been stolen by a man only slightly less idiotic than the Louvre guards. Vincenzo Peruggia, a Louvre employee, got it into his head that the painting really belonged in Italy, so he went to the museum during regular working hours, hid in a broom closet, and then later wandered back out with the painting hidden under his coat. Since the painting is on wood, we can only guess that either this guy was a giant hulking mass, or the Louvre guards really were the stupidest security guards since the guys who left the gate open during the siege of Constantinople.

Like the moron he was, Peruggia eventually attempted to sell the painting to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, which raised some alarm bells. He was arrested, but Italians hailed him as a hero and he only served six months in jail. The Mona Lisa, meanwhile, toured Italy for a while before being returned to the Louvre in 1913. Since then, presumably, the museum’s kept a much closer eye on it.



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