Leonardo da Vinci's portrait of Lisa Gherardini, more commonly known as 'Mona Lisa' , has a scandalous history.
Mona Lisa Discovered Missing
On August 21, 1911, for instance, someone stole the Mona Lisa from The Louvre museum. French painter, Louis Béroud arrived at The Louvre the following day, on August 22nd, to make a sketch of the famous painting. However, he noticed that the painting was missing, and alerted the the guards. Authorities immediately closed the museum, and it remained closed for a whole week.
Picasso Was A Suspect
The police first suspected an artist named Géry Piéret, who had already been accused of theft at the Louvre. But the investigators could not find Piéret, so they arrested his employer, Guillaume Apollinaire, instead. Apollinaire, the notable French poet, was suspect for having once suggested that the Louvre should be burnt down. Picasso, too, was under suspicion, because he had once purchased some Iberian stone heads from Piéret. Piéret had apparently stolen the items from the Louvre. However, both Picasso and Apollinaire were eventually cleared of all charges.
The Real Thief
It turned out that the real thief was Vincenzo Peruggia, an employee at the museum. After hiding in a closet overnight, he simply removed the painting, and hid it under his smock. He had intended to just waltz out of the building with it, but discovered the door was locked. Desperate, Peruggia removed the doorknob, but still it wouldn't open. Finally, a workman passing by opened the door with his key.
The motive was clear. As an Italian patriot, Vincenzo believed that the painting should have rightfully been displayed in an Italian museum. Also, Peruggia had a friend who owned copies of the original painting. Their thinking was, the copies would dramatically increase in value once the painting went missing.
It should be noted, though, that in 1932, the Saturday Evening Post reported that the mastermind of the robbery was Eduardo de Valfierno. They alleged that he had paid Peruggia to steal the treasured painting. According to the story, Valfierno had also commissioned French art forger, Yves Chaudron, to make six copies of the Mona Lisa.
Found and returned
It turns out, by the way, the Mona Lisa never even left France. It remained safely stored in Peruggia’s apartment, while he attempted to sell it to the directors of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
Up until this scandalous story emerged, the Mona Lisa had been virtually unknown outside professional art circles. Peruggia, finally convicted of the crime, spent six months in prison. Thanks to him, though, the Mona Lisa went on to become the world's most famous painting!