One hundred years ago today (August 21, 1911), it was a quiet Monday morning in Paris, France. The Louvre, arguably the world’s most famous art museum, was closed for the day. But three men were running away from the Louvre: Vincenzo Perugia and the brothers Vincenzo Lancelotti and Michele Lancelotti.
They had arrived to the Louvre on Sunday afternoon and managed to find a hiding space in a small storeroom near the Salon Carré, a gallery stuffed with Renaissance paintings. They spent the night. In the morning, wearing white workmen’s smocks, they had gone into the Salon Carré. They seized a small painting off the wall. Quickly, they ripped off its glass shadow box and frame and Perugia hid it under his clothes.
And so The Mona Lisa was stolen.
Remarkably, it took more than 24 hours for anyone to notice that the painting had been stolen. Granted, at the time, the Louvre had lax security and The Mona Lisa wasn’t even the most famous item in the museum.
My favourite piece of trivia about the theft: the artist Pablo Picasso was considered a suspect in the theft of the Mona Lisa; he was brought in for questioning but promptly released.
The Mona Lisa would not be found for 28 months. The best account I’ve read recounting the story of Mona Lisa’s theft is this brilliant, must-read piece in Vanity Fair.