Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Mona Lisa Heist...An Anniversary of Sorts...

("Mona Lisa", Leonardo da Vinci  c. 1503-1505)
No matter whom you ask, whether they be of the artistic mind or not, most people will know of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting, the ‘Mona Lisa’. Sitting comfortably in a chair with her crossed hands and left arm resting on the chair’s arm, she has always sparked an art viewer’s mind to wondering…wondering what exactly she is thinking to cause such a lovely yet subtle smile to touch the corners of her mouth? Personally, I have always thought she looks like she is harboring some deep and lovely secret. I have never seen any text that finally divulges what was on Lisa’s mind at the time, so I think I am safe in saying that Lisa’s thoughts and feelings during her sitting for Leonardo shall remain one of art’s biggest question marks. I’m glad. That’s just how it should be. Give people something to think about.

(The Louvre; Paris, France  c. 1911)
Da Vinci worked on the ‘Mona Lisa’ (‘La Gioconda’) from 1503 to 1505, in Florence, Italy. He would go to his grave (May 2, 1519) never completing it. Today the famous painting hangs in the Louvre in Paris, France. However, during the years the ‘Mona Lisa’ has hung on the museum’s wall the famous painting has experienced its share of drama.

(Wall of Salon Carre, and the four iron wall pegs)
Today, August 21st, marks the anniversary of its chief bit of drama. The 1911 theft of it from its place in the Louvre’s Salon Carre. The discovery of its disappearance is credited to painter, Louis Beroud, who walked into the Salon during a visit the day after the theft. Instead of finding the smiling ‘Lisa’ looking back at him from her place on the wall (a place she had occupied for 5 years), he found nothing but her bit of wall and the four iron pegs she had been hung on. Beroud alerted the head of the museum guard. Initially it was thought that the painting had been temporarily moved to be photographed as part of the museum’s promotion. It took a few hours for the guard to figure out that the painting had indeed been stolen. An investigation was launched, the Louvre being closed for a solid week to help it along.

(Left: Guillaume Apollinaire; Right: Pablo Picasso)
As far as the suspect list, there are really only two mentioned in the various accounts I read about the theft. The first was, Guillaume Apollinaire, whose creative talents included poet, playwright, and novelist. Apollinaire also worked as an art critic, and apparently had once called for the Louvre to be “burnt down”. That attitide put the cross-hairs directly on him, so he was arrested and thrown in the “clink”. Apollinaire made a move to try and implicate a friend of his, the well-known Pablo Picasso. (Makes one wonder the strength of their “friendship”.) Picasso was questioned, but both men would be cleared of the crime. At that point, the case hit a wall.  The ‘Mona Lisa’ was thought to be lost forever. Two years would pass before they discovered the culprit. He was closer than anyone had thought.

(Mugshot, Vincenzo Peruggia)
During those 2 years, the guilty party had been holding the painting in their apartment.  Just who was this art thief? Louvre employee, Vincenzo Peruggia. His plan was so simple, and the security on the museum was obviously so lacking. Yes, it turned out to be an inside job, but he executed the theft so easily it makes one think that anybody (employee or not) could have stolen the painting. Peruggia entered the museum during normal business hours, and hid in a broom closet until it closed. Here’s the amazing part…Peruggia hid the painting under his coat, and walked out with it. The dimensions of the ‘Mona Lisa’ are approximately 30” x 20”, and I am assuming that’s the measurements of the actual painting sans the frame. If he tried to conceal a painting, frame and all, under his coat…unless he was the size of Orson “we will sell no wine before it’s time” Wells, I don’t see how that’s possible. Over the years I have read accounts of other art thefts where the thief used a razor to cut the painting from the frame so he could roll it up, but nothing specific was mentioned to indicate one way or the other. Amazing that he could have walked out with it undetected. So 2 years, his patience has grown thin, and he gets caught trying to unload (sell) it to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

As with many crimes, there is one main question raised…why? One reason given was that Peruggia was an Italian patriot who stole it to return it to Italy, where it could be displayed in a museum in its rightful country. A second reason given was that he had been motivated by a friend who owned copies (forgeries) of the painting. The theory was if Peruggia stole the painting, the fakes his friend had would increase in value. Well, whatever the reason truly was, Peruggia would get off fairly easy by today’s standards. His Italian countrymen applauded him for his patriotism, and he saw the inside of a jail cell for only 6 months.  

After the ‘Mona Lisa’ was recovered, it would make its way back to its initial home in the Louvre. “Lisa” would see a bit of additional drama over the years. At the time of World War II (and in an effort to keep it safe), the painting was shuffled around to a few places, eventually coming to rest at the Ingres Museum, in Montauban.

(Leonardo da Vinci)
Later, safely back at its home in the Louvre, “she” would fall victim to the efforts of vandals. In 1956, there were two incidents. In the first, a vandal doused the painting with acid, causing severe damage to the lower part. In the second, a young Bolivian man hurled a rock at it, causing the loss of a small section of pigment near the elbow. As with any restoration job, the painting will never be the same. So tragic.

In more recent years, the painting was concealed in bullet proof glass to deflect any future assaults. The protective glass didn’t stop two additional reported attacks.  In 1974, a disabled woman tried to hose it down with red paint. Apparently, she was angry with the museum for its policy for the disabled, and wanted to make a “statement”. The other recorded incident was in 2009, when a Russian woman, enraged at being denied French citizenship, hurled a mug at it…one she had picked up in the Louvre gift shop.

During my reading up on this theft, I gradually began to draw a connection. There are a number of nuances to this story that relate to the plot line of one of my favorite films of the 1960’s, “How to Steal a Million” (1966). The film does involve a famous statue instead of a painting, but it involves a counterfeiter. It involves a plan to steal the statue that has the thief entering the museum during regular business hours, hiding in a broom closet until after it closes…there are just enough similar elements to the film that make me think that the story writer had the ‘Mona Lisa’ theft in mind. If you have never seen “How to Steal a Million”, I highly recommend it.  It’s a lot of fun. It stars a gorgeous young Peter O’Toole (those eyes of his!), and the stunning Audrey Hepburn. My film plug for the day.

I’m going to end this post with a collection of exercises in “creative license”. From famed artist, Salvador Dali, to MAD MAGAZINE’s Don Martin, the ‘Mona Lisa’ has been the focus of parody for years. What follows is a collection of some of the creative spoofs, and artistic spins, out there.  Enjoy!

(Versions by ~ Left: Dali & Right: Duchamps)

("What if" paintings in the style of ~ Top Left: Lichtenstein,
Top Right & Bottom Left: Picasso, Bottom Right: Warhol)

("Mona Lisa" in Space, styles that include ~ Top Left: "Star Trek"; Bottom Right: "Avatar")

(Goth/Emo styles, as well as a Witchy version)

(Styles including ~ Top Left: Don Martin of 'MAD MAGAZINE' fame;
Bottom Left: Mona Lisa Simpson; Bottom Right: LEGO Mona Lisa)

(Vampy Mona Lisa's)

(Zombie Mona Lisa's)

(...and finally, a self portrait...Lisa Mona Lisa)

No comments:

Post a Comment