Mona Lisa Heist: Money, Not Country, Was the Motivation

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Graeme Harris / Getty Images

Visitors at the Louvre crowd around the Mona Lisa

He said he did it as an act of patriotism. But a new documentary reveals that the man who swiped the Mona Lisa from the Louvre exactly a century ago was really motivated by — you guessed it — money.

The film, called The Missing Piece, also shows that the thief, Vincenzo Peruggia, committed the crime alone and was not part of an Ocean’s 11–esque group heist as had been speculated. His robbery was ingenious in its simplicity: on a day when the museum was closed for cleaning in 1911, Peruggia walked in wearing a white smock to look like part of the cleaning crew, took the painting off the wall and out of the frame, and walked out with it wrapped in his smock.

(LIST: Top 10 Brazen Heists)

Peruggia, however, was no genius. The Italian immigrant, who had worked at the Louvre for a while installing protective glass over the paintings, had read that Napoleon looted art works throughout Europe and brought them back to France. This led him to think all the Italian works in the Louvre were there illegally. Peruggia decided to steal one of them and triumphantly return it to Italy, expecting this would bring him a reward from the Italian government.

But the Mona Lisa — which Peruggia chose because it was small and easy to carry — was not part of Napoleon’s pillage. Leonardo da Vinci had sold his famous painting to King Francois I of France.

So when Peruggia brought the masterpiece to an art dealer two years after the high-profile theft, claiming patriotism, he was put in jail. But it wasn’t too bad for him — he only had to serve seven months, and the Italian press branded him a national hero.

But The Missing Piece doesn’t let Peruggia off the hook. Its director Joe Medeiros pored over documents from French and Italian archives and found evidence that he did not do it at all for fanatic patriotism: letters to his parents and a report by a court-appointed psychiatrist have no mention of duty to his country; instead, he spoke of using it to make his fortune. (via Discovery News)

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