Vincenzo Peruggia, the Man Who Stole the Mona Lisa Out of the Louvre Museum and Made It a Masterpiece

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Leonardo da Vinci painted Mona Lisa in the early 16th century, but Vincenzo Peruggia (1881–1925) made her famous worldwide by walking out of the Louvre with the painting wrapped in his smock over 100 years ago, on August 21, 1911.

With that daring daylight robbery, the Mona Lisa began her ascent into the stratosphere of cultural fame, while Peruggia sank further and further into the hazy mists of vague infamy. How and why did Peruggia do it? More importantly, what would have happened if he hadn’t?

In 1911, Peruggia perpetrated what has been described as the greatest art theft of the 20th century. It was a police theory that the former Louvre worker hid inside the museum on Sunday, August 20, knowing the museum would be closed the following day.

But, according to Peruggia’s interrogation in Florence after his arrest, he entered the museum on Monday, August 21 around 7 a.m, through the door where the other Louvre workers were entering. He said he wore one of the white smocks that museum employees customarily wore and was indistinguishable from the other workers. When the Salon Carré, where the Mona Lisa hung, was empty, he lifted the painting off the four iron pegs that secured it to the wall and took it to a nearby service staircase. There, he removed the protective case and frame.

The gap on the wall of the Carre Gallery of the Louvre Museum, Paris, where the Mona Lisa was exhibited before it was stolen 1911.

“La Joconde est Retrouvée” (“Mona Lisa is Found”), Le Petit Parisien, 13 December 1913.

Portrait of Vincenzo Peruggia, ca.1910s.

Portrait of Vincenzo Peruggia with his mandolin, c.1910s.

Some people report that he concealed the painting under his smock. But Peruggia was only 5 ft 3 in (160 cm), and the Mona Lisa measures approx. 21 in × 30 in (53 cm × 77 cm), so it would not fit under a smock worn by someone his size. Instead, he said he took off his smock and wrapped it around the painting, tucked it under his arm, and left the Louvre through the same door he had entered.

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