A police photograph of Vincenzo Peruggia in 1911.
October 8, 1881|
Dumenza, Varese, Italy
|Died||October 8, 1925
|Known for||theft of the Mona Lisa|
Vincenzo Peruggia (October 8, 1881 – October 8, 1925) was an Italian thief, most famous for stealing the Mona Lisa on 21 August 1911. Born in Dumenza, Varese, Italy, he died in Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, France.
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 20, 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.
After 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 in Florence 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.
After its theft, the painting was exhibited all over Italy with banner headlines rejoicing its return and then returned to the Louvre in 1913. Peruggia was released from jail after a short time and served in the Italian army during World War I. He later married and had three children - one of them Vincenzo Peruggia Jr - returned to France and opened a paint store. He died on October 8, 1925 in the town of Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, France. His death was not widely reported on by the media, with obituaries appearing mistakenly only when another Vincenzo Peruggia died in Haute-Savoie in 1947.
There are currently two predominant theories regarding the theft of the Mona Lisa.
Peruggia said he did it for a patriotic reason: he wanted to bring the painting back for display in Italy "after it was stolen by Napoleon". Although perhaps sincere in his motive, Vincenzo may not have known that Leonardo da Vinci took this painting as a gift for Francis I when he moved to France to become a painter in his court during the 16th century, 250 years before Napoleon's birth.
Experts have also questioned the "patriotism" motive on the grounds that—were patriotism the true motive—Peruggia would have donated the painting to an Italian museum, rather than attempt to profit from its sale. However it is believed that the "friend" was the one who attempted to profit from the sale since Peruggia never divulged its secret for nearly two years.
Put on trial, the court agreed to some extent that Peruggia committed his crime for patriotic reasons and gave him a lenient sentence. He was sent to jail for one year and fifteen days, but was hailed as a great patriot in Italy and served only seven months in jail.
Another theory emerged later. The theft may have been encouraged or master-minded by Eduardo de Valfierno, a con-man who had commissioned the French art forger Yves Chaudron to make copies of the painting so he could sell them as the missing original. The copies would have gone up in value if the original was stolen. This theory is based entirely on an article by former Hearst journalist Karl Decker in The Saturday Evening Post in 1932. Decker claimed to have known "Valfierno" and heard the story from him in 1913, promising not to print it until he learned of Valfierno's death. There is no external confirmation for this tale.
- He was portrayed in an early German soundfilm by Willi Forst in 1931, and in a television-miniseries called The Man Who Stole La Gioconda by Alessandro Preziosi in 2006.
- In an April 1956 episode of the TV-show You Are There, called "The Recovery of the Mona Lisa (December 10, 1913)", Peruggia is played by Vito Scotti, who reprised the role in yet another TV-reconstruction of the famous theft, this time for the TV-show G.E. True. The episode was called The Tenth Mona Lisa and aired in March 1963.
- In Season 2, Episode 7 of the American produced television series Leverage, the theft of the Mona Lisa was quoted and the duplicates of the painting that were created are referenced as a story telling device.
- A similar con using duplicates painted by Da Vinci himself is portrayed in the 1979 Doctor Who story City of Death.
- On 6 April 2010, the downloadable content pack "Kasumi's Stolen Memories" for the video game Mass Effect 2, had his name mentioned as the password to a villainous art thief's vault with a subsequent statement to the significance of the name. In the DLC "The Lair of the Shadow Broker", it is revealed that a squad member from the game, Kasumi Goto, is the current owner of the painting in the Mass Effect universe.
- The story of Peruggia is recounted at the beginning of Chapter 12 in Daniel Silva's The Rembrandt Affair (Gabriel Allon) which was originally published in July 2010.
- Art Historian Noah Charney's 2011 monograph, "The Theft of the Mona Lisa: On Stealing the Worlds Most Famous Painting" (ARCA Publications) is the most recent full account of the theft and its ramifications.
- In April 2013, Larry A. Thompson Entertainment optioned "Missing Mona Lisa," a screenplay by Mark Hudelson based on the Mona Lisa's theft.
- Hoobler, Dorothy and Thomas, The Crimes of Paris New York: Little, Brown, 2009, pp. 3–7, 305-314.
- Kuper, Simon, "Who Stole the Mona Lisa? The World's Most Famous Art Heist, 100 Years On," Slate, Aug. 7, 2011.
- Newsweek, "The Mona Lisa Thief," September 29, 1947, p. 97.