This, and other fun articles can, of course, be found in my fun book, Welcome to Weirdsville - out now from Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions.
The Lady Vanishes
If it had been done in this age of iphones, ipads, and the rest of our high tech ilives, the movie would have had Clooney or Willis dangling upside down over a pick-up-sticks weave of alarm lasers while a geeky cohort (maybe Steve Buscemi or Alan Cumming), face green from the digital overload bouncing up from a laptop, rattles off a second-by-second update on the imminent wee-oo-wee-oo arrival of the stern-jawed Groupe d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale.
But while the lady did vanish – a very, very special lady – the means of her vanishing, while maybe a tad less dramatic, is no less fascinating. While you'll no doubt immediately recognize the lady in question, you may not know her full name, or some of the more interesting details of her portrait. Begun by a certain well-known artist back in 1503, the likeness of Lisa del Giocondo wasn't finished until some years later, around 1519. After the death of this rather well known artist, the painting was purchased by King François I, and then, after a certain amount of time and other kings, it finally ended up in the Louvre. An interesting note, by the way, is that – while not a King – the painting was borrowed from the Louvre by Napoleon to hang in his private quarters, and was returned to that famous French museum when the Emperor became ... well, not the Emperor.
Its official title is Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo but the smile says it all, and in 1911 it was stolen – and wasn't returned until 1913.
While much of the theft is still a mystery, what is known is that on August 22, 1912, Louis Béroud, a painter and fan of the legendary Mona Lisa, came into the Louvre early one morning to study the famous work of Leonardo da Vinci, instead finding a bare wall. In a pure Inspector Clouseau bit of history, the museum staff didn't immediately put bare wall and missing painting together and instead thought the painting had been taken to be photographed. It took
Béroud, checking with the photographers themselves, to bring it to the attention of the guards that the painting had been stolen.
Suspects were many and varied: a curious one was Guillaume Apollinaire, the critic and surrealist, who, because he can once called for the Louvre to be burnt to the ground, was actually arrested. While no-doubt annoying, he was eventually cleared and released, but not before trying to finger, unsuccessfully, a friend of his for the theft, another rather well known painter by the name of Pablo Picasso.
Alas, the actual thief and the method of the robbery are almost painfully plain, though the man and the means weren't discovered until much later. In 1913, Vincenzo Peruggia, a Louvre employee, was nabbed when he contacted Alfredo Geri, who ran a gallery in Florence, Italy, about the stolen painting.
The story that emerged after his arrest was that on August 20th, 1912, had Peruggia hid in the museum overnight. On the morning of Sunday, the 21st, he emerged from hiding, put on one of the smocks used by employees and, with ridiculous ease, simply took what is arguably the most famous painting in the world and put it under his coat and walked out the door with it. When the gendarmes later knocked on Peruggia's door they'd simply accepted his excuse that he'd been working somewhere else the day of the theft, while the painting was hidden under his bed.
What isn't plain, though, was Peruggia's motivation for the theft.