It would be difficult to live and work in a country that was not your own. It would be even harder to look at a masterpiece of art from your home every day, and wonder why it was not gracing a museum there, where your fellow countrymen could gaze upon its greatness. You might start to think that it wouldn’t be difficult to smuggle the thing out under your coat after hours and take it home, to the city where it was painted. It would probably never enter your thoughts that doing so would cause a field day for counterfeiters, and you certainly wouldn’t expect that your act of patriotism might make that particular painting one of the most famous paintings in the world.
On this day in history in 1911, Vincenzo Peruggia could not overcome his longing for the smile painted by Da Vinci to be in Italy once more, and slipped out the back door of the Louvre with the Mona Lisa.
Painters who had made copies immediately sold out. Poets who had made inflammatory comments about the museum were hauled in for questioning. Even Pablo Picasso was a suspect for a few days. The Louvre was closed for a week while investigators stared, baffled, at the four iron pegs in the empty spot on the wall where the painting should have been.
|Missing Mona Lisa (via wikipedia)|
But even a patriot who longs to return a stolen treasure to its homeland is bound to get impatient after a while. It took Peruggia two years to get squirrelly and be a bit too indiscreet while negotiating with a Gallery in Florence for the painting.
The Louvre didn't get the Mona Lisa back until after it had taken a tour of Italy in 1913. After that, they kept it under closer watch. Additional precautions were taken after several attempts by vandals to destroy the painting.
Fame isn't everything. And though some may say that the only reason the painting is so adored is because it was stolen, there is always something to be said for an irresistible smile.