Sunday, August 21, 2011

0054: The Mona Lisa - From Masterpiece to Icon...

I love this picture! Despite having seen her 6 times I have never been able to appreciate her this close up. She is a relatively small painting (30 in X 21 in); she is encased in glass then displayed at a distance, behind a velvet rope - the ultimate VIP! THEN there is always a crowd of at least 5 deep so you have to slowly follow the procession and get your turn to spend a few seconds with her - which of course is nothing. This is such a beautiful painting and probably the first piece of art I learned about.  It's wonderful to know that she is so beloved and so protected...

Check out "A Closer Look at the Mona Lisa" by The Louvre Museum
This series of short clips will give you a great insight into EVERYTHING about the Mona Lisa.

But that wasn't always the case... It was the art theft of the century, 100 years ago today, in 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Salon CarrĂ© in the Louvre. From the beginning this portrait was greatly admired and much copied, and it came to be considered the prototype of the Renaissance portrait. Mona Lisa even got so many love letters that her portrait was the only artwork at the Louvre to have its own mailbox! Then she "left the building" - some say that this is when she left as a masterpiece and came back an icon. The story is fascinating... (Source: 

t Famous last words - One year prior to the theft...

"You might as well pretend that one could steal 
the towers of the cathedral of Notre Dame."
- Theophile Homolle, museum director of the Louvre. -
(He was forced to resign soon after the robbery.)

The kind of short version... 
On the morning of 8/21/1911 Vincenzo Perruggia (a painter/carpenter at the Louvre) walked into the Louvre, removed the painting from its frame, hid it under his clothes and walked out. The 'kidnapper' then returned to his humble apartment only blocks from the Louvre - this is where she stayed, for two years.

Louis Beroud, an amateur painter, went to the Louvre on Aug 22 (the next day) to paint the Mona Lisa only to find that she is missing from the spot she had been in for 5 years. He inquired with the guards and before you know it they all realized she had been stolen. The museum was locked down and closed for a week while everyone searched for her room-by-room, floor-by-floor, all 49 acres of the Louvre. 

When the Louvre re-opened thousands came to stare at the four iron pegs that once held her. France was stunned and the line had the feeling of a funeral where everyone was paying their respects. No one had a clue what had happened. At one point a 29 year-old Pablo Picasso, known to be cocky but suddenly very nervous, was arrested and questioned - then released. Picasso, who had nothing to do with the theft, was the only person arrested in France for the theft of the Mona Lisa. 

Two years went by with no word about the Mona Lisa. And then the thief made contact, responding to a newspaper ad from Alfredo Geri that stated he was "looking for art objects of every sort". Alfredo was in Florence and although the thief wanted to meet in Paris, Alfredo said he could meet in Florence - he never thought this would be the real Mona Lisa. Alfredo brought along Giovanni Poggi, museum director from the Uffizi, who at once knew they were dealing with the original painting.

They asked to take the painting to the Uffizi to verify the authenticity then they called the police. Vincenzo was arrested (later tried, in Italy, and served 7 months of a 1 year sentence). He claimed that he didn't "steal" the Mona Lisa - that she had been stolen by Napoleon (not true, despite taking a lot of other art to France, he never got the Mona Lisa) and that he was simply acting out of patriotic duty to return her to Italy. Of course trying to make a profit along the way...

For two years, the Mona Lisa who had been so impeccably taken care of since she was originally commissioned had spent her time in a closet, exposed to humidity, cigarette smoke, heat, etc. It's thought that she sustained a lot of damage because of the elements. 

So, even back in 1911 this story was reported and followed all over the world. Whether an icon or celebrity, the huge publicity surrounding the theft helped launch Leonardo's great painting into the stratosphere of fame.

La Gioconda or Mona Lisa
Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo

Painted between 1503 and 1506
By Leonardo Da Vinci

No comments:

Post a Comment