You think someone would notice if the Mona Lisa (or La Gioconda, as I now like to call her) disappeared from a wall in the Louvre. But in 1911, the painting was gone an entire day before anyone reported it stolen.
Guards actually did notice it was gone, but assumed it had been taken by museum officials to be photographed for marketing purposes. Once the official theft was confirmed, it was two years before the painting was found. The thief, Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggi, purportedly wanted to return the painting to its original country.
Stealing Mona Lisa, a mystery by Carson Morton, embellishes the actual crime and gives readers some endearing characters in the process. The mastermind behind the heist — in the novel — is Eduardo de Valfierno, whose team of thieves includes a young woman who is an accomplished pickpocket, a talented painter who doesn’t mind making money copying others’ works, and a museum employee who is enraged that Mona Lisa had been taken away from Italy. In the novel, greedy American businessmen are eager to purchase stolen works of art, believing that they alone deserve to possess these objects of beauty. Perhaps there is even enough money among these newly wealthy Americans to warrant several Mona Lisa’s — which means de Valfierno’s forger/painter is very busy indeed. How does this team of con artists pull it off? And with all these forgeries, what happened to the actual painting?
I’m often drawn to this kind of mystery — in fiction and in real life — and I become obsessed with the details of how the thief dodged all security channels. I admit that I admire the cunning involved in this kind of caper. In fiction, of course.
If you like historical mysteries, take this one on vacation with you. And if you’d like to know more about the actual Mona Lisa heist of 1911, take a look at Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa by R.A. Scotti and The Crimes of Paris: A True Story of Murder, Theft and Detection by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler (both published in 2009).
And if you’re five years old and already showing an interest in the masterful art of masterpiece theft (from the viewpoint of how to thwart a thief, of course), here are two picture books just for you: Steal Back the Mona Lisa by Meghan McCarthy and Art Dog by Thacher Hurd. They’re both a hoot!