The Mona Lisa: Theft and Vandalism

The Mona Lisa, the most famous painting in the world has had its fair share is bad luck over the years.

Leonardo da Vinci began the painting in 1503 in Florence, Italy. He spent four years on the Mona Lisa, which was originally painted for wealthy Florentine silk merchant, Francesco del Giocondo as a portrait of his third wife, Lisa Gherardini. After getting very impatient, Giocondo refused to pay Leonardo da Vinci for his work, which leads to the Mona Lisa being sold to the King of France.

Now, property of the French Republic, the Mona Lisa is on permanent display at the Musée du Louvre in Paris.



The Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre on 21st August 1911.

On the 22nd August 1911, Louis Beroud, who was at the Louvre to sketch the Mona Lisa, noticed that after 5 years of being displayed in the Louvre, the painting was gone and only four iron pegs remained. When Beroud contacted the guards, they all assumed the painting had been sent to be photographed for marketing purposes. A few hours passed and the painting was still not returned. He checked with the section head of the museum and they soon confirmed that the Mona Lisa was not with the photographers.

The Louvre was closed for an entire week whilst the investigation was carried out. French poet, Guillaume Apollinaire and artist Pablo Picasso were both brought in for questioning, but with no evidence they were soon cleared and free to go.

Many had thought the painting was destroyed and lost forever. It wasn’t until two years after the disappearance that the thief was discovered.

An employee of the Louvre, Vincenzo Peruggia was caught after he lost his patience and attempted to sell the painting to the directors of Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The painting was kept for ‘safe keeping’ and when Peruggia returned to his hotel, he was arrested. Peruggia kept the Mona Lisa in his apartment for two years before approaching the gallery.

Police theory suggests that he had entered the museum during the regular opening hours on Sunday, knowing that the museum would be closed the following day; he then hid in the broom closest until the museum was closed and simply walked out with the Mona Lisa hidden under his coat.

However, according to his interrogation in Florence, he entered the Louvre on Monday 21st August at 7am, following the other Louvre workers through the door. He wore the required uniform, so was practically indistinguishable. When the Salon Carré (where the Mona Lisa is hung) was empty, he quickly lifted the painting off the wall and removed the protective case and frame in a nearby staircase. As Peruggia is only 5’3”, the painting would not fit underneath his clothing. Instead, he took off his uniform and wrapped it around the painting, tucked it under his arm and left the museum through the same door he entered without raising a suspicion.

His Reason?
As an Italian patriot, Peruggia believe that the painting should have been returned to Italy for display in an Italian museum.

The Mona Lisa returned to the Louvre in 1913 and Peruggia was praised for his loyalty in Italy and only serves six months in jail for ‘the greatest art theft of the 20th century’

Vincenzo Peruggia:

Source: Google Images


In 1956, the lower part of the Mona Lisa was damaged after a vandal drenched the painting in acid. In the same year, on 30th December;  a young  man called Ungaza Villegas  threw a rock at the painting, resulting in damage.

In April 1974, a woman upset about the disabled policy in the museum, sprayed red paint over the Mona Lisa whilst at the Tokyo National Museum and most recent, on the 2nd August 2009, a Russian woman was distraught over being denied French citizenship, threw a teacup that she earlier purchased at the museum at the painting.  Luckily the Mona Lisa was behind bullet proof glass.



Protected by 1.52inch thick bullet proof glass since 1960, the painting is now behind a sealed enclosure at a permanent temperature 43°F

Prepare to be greeted with a large traffic of tourists, armed with their selfie sticks ready to push and shove anyone who will get in their way.

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