This Day in History – August 22nd, 1911


Vincenzo Peruggia

Vincenzo Peruggia

In 1911 Vincenzo Peruggia perpetrated what has been described as the greatest art theft of the 20th century. The former Louvre worker hid inside the museum on Sunday, August 22, knowing that the museum would be closed the following day. Emerging from his hiding place on Monday morning, he wore one of the white artists’ 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 it from the wall and took it to an enclosed stairwell, leaving four iron pegs behind him. There he removed the protective case and frame and concealed the painting (which Leonardo painted on wood) under his smock. He left the Louvre with it, passing a guard station which had been left unattended by a guard who had gone to obtain a pail of water. Vincenzo hid the painting in his apartment in Paris. Supposedly, when police arrived to search his apartment and question him, they accepted his alibi that he had been working at a different location on the day of the theft.

Mona_LisaAfter keeping the painting hidden in a trunk in his apartment for two years, Peruggia returned to Italy with it. He kept it in his apartment inFlorence but grew impatient and was finally caught when he contacted Alfredo Geri, the owner of an art gallery in Florence, Italy. Geri’s story conflicts with Peruggia’s, but it was clear that Peruggia expected a reward for returning the painting to what he regarded as its “homeland.” Geri called in Giovanni Poggi, director of the Uffizi Gallery, who authenticated the painting. Poggi and Geri, after taking the painting for “safekeeping,” informed the police, who arrested Peruggia at his hotel.


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