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This Day in History, 1911: Mona Lisa Discovered Stolen

Ninety-four years ago today, painter Louis Beroud walked into the Louvre to study the effect of the new glass pane covering the Mona Lisa, and was shocked to discover the painting was missing.

The painting had actually been stolen the morning before, but everyone had assumed that it has been taken down to be photographed by the museum's photographer. When the painting was still not back the next day, the theft was discovered.

For over two years, all the world wondered about the fate of the Mona Lisa. Finally, it was recovered when the thief, an Italian named Vincenzo Perugia, attempted to sell the painting to a gallery in Italy. Perugia had stolen the painting on behalf of another man, the mastermind Eduardo de Valfierno, who had promised to pay him handsomely for it. Instead, the mastermind had also hired a forger to create six unimpeachable copies of the painting. Once Perugia had stolen the painting, the mastermind took a ship to America, where he sold the six copies to six different, anonymous rich businessmen, all of whom were convinced they were secretly buying the one true painting.

(Interestingly enough, today is also the anniversary of last year's theft of The Scream by Munch, stolen at gunpoint from the Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway. Say what you will about Perugia, but his theft showed a lot more style.)

The Day They Stole the Mona Lisa by Seymour Reit (out of print, but available in many libraries)


Wow. I don't know how often I've run across the "Steal the Mona Lisa and sell multiple forged copies" plot and never realized until today that someone actually did it. Thank you.
The only time I ran across this plot was in the Doctor Who episode "City of Death."

I discovered the true story twice. The first was in an episode of the 1982-3 TV show Voyagers! called "Voyagers of the Titanic," which posited a businessman stealing the Mona Lisa from Perugia's basement. The voyagers have to save the painting from sinking with the Titanic and then return it to the basement, since it's still missing.

The second time was in WIlliam Goldman's book Which Lie Did I Tell? More Adventures in the Screen Trade. Goldman wanted to turn the story into a screenplay, and he even published in the book one scene that he wrote for it. (He never did turn it into a screenplay, or a movie for that matter.)
The only time I ran across this plot was in the Doctor Who episode "City of Death."
Indeed. I was going to say something about how five of the copies, plus the original in the Louvre, had "This is a fake" scrawled on the backs of them in felt tip, but then you went and ruined the joke. :)

"City of Death" will be released on DVD in North America and the UK in early November, by the way.


December 2016

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