You don’t have to be an art connoisseur to know about the legendary painting “La Gioconda,” popularly known as Mona Lisa. Painted by Leonardo Da Vinci in 1503, Mona Lisa was just an ordinary painting; unheard of and unseen by many. That is, until three Italian men, Vincenzo and Michele Lancelotti and Vincenzo Peruggia, decided to steal it from the Louvre, Paris.
It was this theft that brought this regular painting to headlines and glory. The Louvre was shaken, the world was stunned and the painting was nowhere to be found. The theft of the Mona Lisa garnered so much publicity that Dorothy and Tom Hoobler wrote all about this famous heist in their book, The Crimes of Paris. Although the painting was found 2 years later, the legendary tale continued to live on.
The Painting that Became Famous Overnight
Vincenzo Peruggia worked in the Louvre, which made stealing the painting a child’s play for him. He wore a white smock like all the other employees and hid the artwork inside it once the gallery was closed. When the gallery reopened, he walked out with it inconspicuously and thus began the story that created a legend.
The heist of the Mona Lisa started dominating headlines worldwide. Between the great tragedy of the Titanic in April 1912, and the tension that escalated ahead of World War I, Leonardo’s painting still managed to secure its place among the top news. Even popular names like Guillaume Apollinaire and Pablo Picasso were under suspicion but were soon cleared from the charges.
The Masterpiece Returned
In November 1913, the Italian criminal Vincenzo Peruggia who ironically called himself Leonardo Peruggia, contacted an art dealer in Florence to return the painting to Italy for a reward of 500,000 lire. When the police knocked on Peruggia’s door, he claimed that he was simply a patriot who was returning the painting to its original home, Italy, after Napoleon stole it and kept it in Paris.
The world rejoiced. People, among the fabled writer Franz Kafka, visited the Uffizi Gallery to see the lost painting with their own eyes, until it was restored in the Louvre where it has resided ever since. Peruggia became a hero in the eyes of Italians and he even went on to serve in the Italian Army in World War I after his release from jail. He eventually moved back to France to become a painter.
The Mystery Behind the Identity of “La Gioconda”
The conundrum behind Mona Lisa arose due to the existence of two versions of her. The original version hung at the Louvre, is presumed to be the original. However, an earlier model of La Gioconda is present in the Swiss vault which remains hidden from the public. Did Peruggia even steal the original Mona Lisa? Guess we’ll never know.
Besides having a faint, enigmatic smile and an Italian Renaissance style, little is known of the renowned woman. The most prominent theory is that she is Lisa del Giocondo, a wife to a silk merchant and a mother of five children. Whereas others have a more outlandish stance that she is Da Vinci himself. Even so, Da Vinci’s obsession with this puzzling woman is evident in his attempts to recreate her time and again with different backgrounds and techniques.
The Irksome Omnipresence
Ever since Peruggia decided to change the fate of the painting, it has not only become a site that is all-pervasive but has been a great source of jokes, witticism, and mockery. Mona Lisa’s presence dominates memes, coffee mugs, merchandise, posters, books, songs, t-shirts, bottles, youtube videos, the list is exasperating.
Her legendary smile became a secret that no one could decipher and is now often replaced with amusing undertones. It seems to flicker one second, only to linger in our minds the next. It was believed to be so alluring that Mona Lisa had even claimed to be God’s mother and possess divine powers.
Even so, the painting’s legend unequivocally is the result of Da Vinci’s painstaking hard work and resilience. The credit, however, belongs to Peruggia as well. If it was not for his claimed “patriotism” and cleverness, the painting would never have been the saga that it is today.
Every painting needs a place to belong to. Just like the Louvre is the abode of Mona Lisa, 1st Art Gallery is the abode of Da Vinci’s and many other artists’ handmade reproductions, along with being the world’s largest supplier of Made-to-Order Oil Paintings! The original painting might be in Paris, but nothing is stopping you from having the mystifying Mona Lisa on your walls. Maybe she will flash her smile a little brighter when you pass by her. You never know!