On December 12, 1913, two years after it was stolen from the Louvre Museum in Paris, Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece The Mona Lisa is recovered inside Italian waiter Vincenzo Peruggia's apartment in Florence. Peruggia had previously worked at the Louvre and had participated in the heist with a group of accomplices dressed as Louvre janitors on the morning of August 21, 1911.
Leonardo da Vinci, one of the great Italian Renaissance painters, completed The Mona Lisa, a portrait of the wife of wealthy Florentine citizen Francesco del Gioconda, in 1504. The painting, also known as La Gioconda, depicts the figure of a woman with an enigmatic facial expression that is both aloof and alluring, seated before a visionary landscape.
The news of the theft shocks the world and was on the front page of every major newspaper. Paris Police blamed the Louvre for its inadequate security and the museum in turn, ridiculed investigators for failing to turn up even a shadow of a lead. It was the Prefect of the Paris Police, Inspector Louis Lepine, who finally took charge. Based on interviews with museum staff, including everyone who had ever worked at the museum, and the scant evidence found at the scene, he pieced together a reconstruction of the theft. But for all his efforts, Lepine has no hard leads.
Initial reaction in Paris to the Mona Lisa's disappearance was decidedly one of denial. Many believed it was only a hoax. When the Louvre reopens a week after the theft, thousands of Parisians file through the Salon Carré like mourners at a funeral. They came just to see the void where the painting had been hung. Everyone believed the painting was lost forever. But Lepine and his team of detectives doggedly pursue every possible clue. In the investigation that follows, some unusual suspects are called into question, yet the thief and the painting are nowhere to be found.
For two years her whereabouts would remain unknown. Then, in November of 1913, with all other leads long since exhausted, a letter arrives at the office of a Florentine antique dealer that would change everything. The Mona Lisa was eventually found very near the spot where she had been conceived four centuries earlier, having been hidden for two years in the humble apartments of her kidnapper, Vincenzo Peruggia in Florence. After the recovery of The Mona Lisa, Peruggia was convicted of the theft and spent just 14 months in jail. The Mona Lisa was eventually returned to the Louvre, where it remains today, exhibited behind bulletproof glass.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of Murder & Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: