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August 21, 1911: the Mona Lisa vanishes

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August 21, 1911: the Mona Lisa vanishes


It is perhaps the world’s most famous painting in the world’s most famous museum. But exactly 100 years ago, on August 21 1911, the Mona Lisa vanished from the Louvre in Paris in mysterious circumstances.

All that was left was an empty space on the wall, and an empty frame nearby. The painting had gone.

Today in a small Italian town on the Swiss border, what happened is part of local folklore.

Dumenza is the birthplace of Vincenzo Peruggia, the thief.

Silvio Peruggia says his grandfather stole the Mona Lisa because he wanted to “do something shocking against the fact that Napoleon stole lots of art works from Italy”.

In fact Leonardo da Vinci had brought the painting to France where it was said to have been sold to King François I.

Peruggia was arrested in Florence after trying to offer it to art dealers. He said he acted out of patriotism and got seven months’ jail.

The house where he was born still bears a plaque in his honour. For some he is a hero.

“I’m sure the Mona Lisa is still here in Dumenza, hidden under a table and the French people only got a copy,” he says. “I know it’s a bit crazy but I’d be happy if it’s really like that,” said Renato Tosi, a tourist from Milan.

Much remains unknown about the theft of the masterpiece by a man described as “simple” who nevertheless fooled the police for two years.

A century on, as the Mona Lisa gazes down at hordes of onlookers amid slightly tighter security at the Louvre, only she knows the secret.

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