365 Days of Art: August 21 – Mona Lisa is Stolen, but Theft Goes Unnoticed

La Gioconda (popularly known as The Mona Lisa), Leonardo da Vinci, 1503-1517

August 21, 1911

The Mona Lisa is stolen from the Louvre, but it takes 24 hours to notice that it is missing. What in the world??

Yes, guards, and visitors too apparently, believe that the famous painting has been officially removed for photographs or other legitimate museum business. The same visitor has to report his concerns twice before anyone takes him seriously. Eventually, the police are summoned. In a stairwell, they find the frame and the infamous glass shield that separates the painting from the crowds.

It turns out a substitute guard had left his post to go on a cigarette break, and the painting must have been stolen during this time. The fact that the museum is closed at the time points to an inside job, though the theories fly: it’s a German attempt to destroy the French spirit, while the Germans counter that the French have staged the theft; it’s sabotage by discontented Louvre employees; it’s a way to blackmail the government; it’s a run-of-the-mill maniac. After months go by with no sign of the Mona Lisa, the theories change: it’s been accidentally destroyed and discarded in a cleaning mishap, and the idea of a theft is a cover-up for the Louvre’s carelessness.

Two years later, there’s finally a break in the case. To be continued…