Eduardo de Valfierno

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Eduardo de Valfierno, who posed as a Marqués (marquis), was an Argentine con man who allegedly masterminded the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911.[1]

Theft of the Mona Lisa[edit]

In 1932 journalist Karl Decker published a story in the Saturday Evening Post claiming Valfierno paid several men to steal the work of art from the Louvre, including museum employee Vincenzo Peruggia. On August 21, 1911 Peruggia hid the Mona Lisa under his coat and simply walked out the door.

Before the heist took place, Valfierno allegedly commissioned French art restorer and forger Yves Chaudron to make six copies of the Mona Lisa.[2][3] The forgeries were then shipped to various parts of the world, readying them for the buyers he had lined up. Valfierno knew once the Mona Lisa was stolen it would be harder to smuggle copies past customs. After the heist the copies were delivered to their buyers, each thinking they had the original which had just been stolen for them.[4] Because Valfierno just wanted to sell forgeries, he only needed the original Mona Lisa to disappear and never contacted Peruggia again after the crime. Eventually Peruggia was caught trying to sell the painting and it was returned to the Louvre in 1913.

Peruggia denied he ever knew Valfierno other than a chance meeting at the Louvre.

Decker's article is the only source for this story, or even for the existence of Valfierno at all. He was famous for taking liberties with his articles, and many of the facts and details he provides in the article are just incorrect, including the size and weight of the Mona Lisa, and the type of wood it was painted on. That and the fact that a century later none of the alleged copies have been found casts serious doubts on the accuracy of the story and the existence of Eduardo de Valfierno.

In fiction[edit]

The notion of stealing the Mona Lisa and making six copies to sell to private collectors is similar to a plot element in the Doctor Who story "City of Death" – in which, through time travel, Leonardo himself is forced to make copies of his own work, which would then be sold in 1979.

In the 1985 television series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes starring Jeremy Brett, the episode called "The Final Problem" begins with the theft of the Mona Lisa, masterminded by Moriarty in order to sell prepared fakes to collectors. Holmes recovers the original painting just before Moriarty makes a sale to a "Mr. Morgan". Holmes's interference with his plans convinces Moriarty that the detective must be eliminated.

This con was also mentioned in Leverage episode "The Two Live Crew Job", where a rival crew steals a painting that the Leverage Crew was looking for. Parker claims that this "Mona Lisa Variant" was the first con she learned and explains it for the viewing audience.

In the film St Trinian's (2007), the girls use a similar scheme with the painting Girl with a Pearl Earring: they make a copy of the picture, "borrow" the original, sell the copy for £500 000, return the original (claiming to have found it in a Harvey Nichols changing room) and claim the £50 000 reward. In a deleted scene, they mention the original 'Mona Lisa scam'.

In the psychological heist film Inception, Hotel Valferno is a hotel where the characters meet and fight.

In the USA Network show White Collar, an episode entitled "Copycat Caffrey" was mainly about the same basic con that Valfierno had pulled.

The Argentine novelist Martin Caparros published in 2004 the novel Valfierno, in which he reconstructs in fictional form the biography of the con man, as well as those of his accomplices and the historical milieu from which they sprang.

Valfierno is the main character of the 2011 novel Stealing Mona Lisa, which is a fictional account of the theft.

In the heist film The Art of the Steal the story of de Valfierno is a significant plot point in the story.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Forbes: Great Art Thefts Of The 20th Century
  2. ^ Crimes Against Mona
  3. ^ Schroeder, Andreas (1996). Scams, Scandals and Skulduggery. McClelland & Stewart. 
  4. ^ Reit, Seymour. The Day They Stole the Mona Lisa. New York: Summitt Books, 1981.