Back in the 1960s when I was a single, young teacher, I often traveled with friends and colleagues on our summer hiatus to different countries. One year we flew to France and visited the Louvre Museum in Paris to view the famous painting of Mona Lisa by Renaissance genius Leonardo Da Vinci. I recall that it was covered in bulletproof glass. At the time, I supposed that was to protect it from vandalism.
I was reminded of all that when I read Mark Zimmaro’s report on the film-making couple, Joe and Justine Medeiros, who made a documentary trying to solve a mystery of why the masterpiece was stolen (“Solving the mystery of the stolen Mona Lisa,” Aug. 24). Until I read that article, I never knew about the heist that took place on Aug. 21, 1911.
Full disclosure, I submitted this letter before the documentary was aired on WHYY, so I can only comment on what I learned from my own research. I learned, first of all, that the Mona Lisa was installed in the Louvre Museum at the turn of the 19th century. The painting became very popular, but it was the theft in 1911 that brought it worldwide attention. They even arrested Pablo Picasso as a suspect. Two years later the painting was found in Italy after an art dealer in Florence, Alfredo Geri, alerted the local authorities that a man had contacted him about selling it.
The man was Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian immigrant to France, who had briefly worked at the Louvre fitting glass on a selection of paintings, including the Mona Lisa. He and two other workers took the portrait from the wall, hid it in a closet overnight, and ran off with it in the morning. Unable to sell it due to media attention, Peruggia hid it in the false bottom of a trunk until his capture. He was tried, convicted and imprisoned for the theft while the painting toured Italy before returning to the Louvre. He served only 7 months in jail.
So thanks to Mark Zimmaro for reporting on this historic event and to the South Philly couple who made a documentary about it. I wish I had known about this fascinating story back when I visited Da Vinci’s famous work.
– Gloria C. Endres