When The Mona Lisa Was Stolen: 1911's Art Theft That Made The Painting World Famous

By | May 16, 2019

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Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vince at the Louvre Museum, Paris, France. Source: (Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)

Even if you are not an art lover, you have seen reproductions of the Mona Lisa, Leonardo de Vinci’s famous 16th century portrait that has been hailed as a masterpiece. Today, we see the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile on t-shirts, coffee mugs, phone cases, and mousepads. She is so popular and recognizable that it is hard for us to believe that the painting hung in relative obscurity in Paris’ Louvre museum until it was stolen in 1911. The theft and the ensuing search for the painting brought world-wide attention to the Mona Lisa and made it the most-recognized painting in the world. 

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The Louvre Museum in the early 1900s. Source: (unjourdeplusaparis.com)

The Theft

In August of 1911, a handyman working for the Louvre Museum named Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian national, hid overnight in a storage closet at the museum. In the wee hours of the morning, he crept out and removed the Mona Lisa from behind the protective glass case. During that time, there were no alarms in the museum and only a few overnight guards. Peruggia stuffed the painting under his shirt and headed for the door. He had a moment of panic when the door would not open from the inside like he assumed it would. But a plumber showed up to do some work and was kind enough to unlock the door for Peruggia.