August 25, 2011


Who Stole the Mona Lisa?: The world's most famous art heist, 100 years on. (Simon Kuper, Aug. 7, 2011, Slate/Financial Times)

On Monday morning, Aug. 21, 1911, inside the Louvre museum in Paris, a plumber named Sauvet came upon an unidentified man stuck in front of a locked door. The man--wearing a white smock, like all the Louvre's maintenance staff--pointed out to Sauvet that the doorknob was missing. The helpful Sauvet opened the door with his key and some pliers. The man walked out of the museum and into the Parisian heatwave. Hidden under his smock was Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa."

The art theft of the century helped make the Mona Lisa what she is today. The world's popular newspapers--a new phenomenon in 1911--and the French police searched everywhere for the culprit. At one point they even suspected Pablo Picasso. Only one person was ever arrested for the crime in France: the poet Guillaume Apollinaire. But the police found the thief only when he finally outed himself.

Stealing "La Joconde"--the woman in the portrait is probably the Florentine silk merchant's wife Lisa del Giocondo--was not particularly difficult. The main thing it took was nerve. Like the Louvre's other paintings, she was barely guarded. She wasn't fixed to the wall. The Louvre was closed on Mondays. August is Paris's quietest month. On that particular Monday morning, the few caretakers were mostly busy cleaning.

Posted by at August 25, 2011 5:35 AM

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