Mona Lisa (found Leonardo da Vinci portrait painting; 1503-1506)

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The Mona Lisa.

Status: Found

Date found: November 1913

Found by: Alfredo Geri and Giovanni Poggi

On August 21st, 1911, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre Museum. The culprit, Vincenzo Peruggia, had removed the painting from its frame and had managed to leave without attracting suspicion. It was not until November 1913 that the painting publicly resurfaced, after Peruggia attempted to sell it to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.


While the Mona Lisa is now one of the most famous paintings in the world, back in the early 1910s, it was not especially well-regarded by the general public and was only deemed a masterpiece by art critics.[1][2] As historian James Zug notes, there were actually other paintings within the Salon Carré gallery in the Louvre that were more famous than it.[1] During this time period, the painting and other Louvre works were to be photographed.[1] But by the time the photographers were present at the Museum, nobody had realised the painting was stolen 28 hours previously.[1][2]

The Theft

Vincenzo Peruggia was an Italian museum worker and artist that had previously been a Louvre employee. According to some sources, he was incensed that the Mona Lisa was being displayed in France, believing that it was stolen from Florence by Napoleon and that it should be returned there.[3][2] Thus, on 21st August 1911, Peruggia made plans to steal the painting, disguising himself as a Louvre employee by wearing a white smock.[2] At around 7 am, he entered the Museum via a staff door, and travelled to the Salon Carré which was devoid of people.[1] He proceeded to remove the painting from its iron pegs, before taking off its protective case and frame.[1] He then wrapped the smock around the painting, and quietly left the Louvre while tucking the painting under his arm.[2][1]

It is believed that Peruggia planned to quickly sell the painting. However, when it was finally discovered the Mona Lisa had been stolen, the theft made worldwide headlines, with The New York Times stating "60 Detectives Seek Stolen 'Mona Lisa'".[4][1][2] The painting's disappearance had actually resulted in the artwork becoming famous overnight, with many people entering the Louvre to witness the empty site that the Mona Lisa was once situated at.[2][1] With significant media attention and numerous rewards offered, Peruggia was unable to flog the painting and decided to instead hide it in the false bottom of a trunk at his Paris boarding house.[2][1]


In November 1913, Peruggia was becoming desperate to sell the Mona Lisa, having taken it to an apartment in Florence.[1] He made contact with Alfredo Geri, an arts dealer who was interested in buying it.[5] Peruggia felt he was entitled to a reward for bringing to painting back to its "homeland".[6][2][1] Nevertheless, a suspicious Geri contacted Giovanni Poggi, the director of the Uffizi Gallery, to authenticate the painting.[2][1] Poggi affirmed that the painting was the stolen Mona Lisa after authenticating a stamp on the back of it.[1] Geri and Poggi then informed Peruggia that they would store the painting for safekeeping.[5][2][1] Not long afterwards, the police were contacted, and Peruggia was arrested.[2][5][6]

Peruggia pleaded guilty to stealing the painting, with the court accepting that the theft was partly motivated via patriotism.[3][2] Thus, he was sentenced to a year and 15 days in prison, though he ultimately only served eight months.[3][2] The return of the Mona Lisa to Italy spread great joy in the country, with the painting briefly displayed at the Uffizi.[7][1] However, it was returned to the Louvre in January 1914.[8][2][1] Since then, another theft of the Mona Lisa is extremely unlikely to occur. In addition to the Louvre's security systems, the painting is protected by a glass enclosure that is strong enough to withstand various vandalism attempts over the years.[9][8][6]



Mona Lisa is Missing documentary, providing a detailed analysis of the theft.