The Mona Lisa, painted between 1503 and 1506, is one of the most famous paintings in the world and probably Leonardo Da Vinci’s most famous work. Any visit to the Louvre requires at least an attempt to see the Mona Lisa though she is sometimes hidden behind her crowds of admirers! While painted in Italy, Leonardo sold the painting to King Francis the 1st of France and after the French Revolution (1787-1793), she was hung in the Louvre Museum where she remains to this day.
In 1911, an Italian by the name of Vincenzo Peruggia was overcome with the need to repatriate the Mona Lisa, and take it back to Italy. Told in the first person, The Stolen Smile tells Vincenzo’s story of how he snuck into the Louvre where he had been a former employee, carefully removed the glass hanging in front of the painting and quickly stuffed her in his sack! Of course there was a panic and through the great illustrations by Gary Kelley, we are given a peek into other areas in the Louvre as they search the Oriental art gallery, the Renaissance, the sculptures, and Egyptian antiquities. Sixty policemen were dispatched to track down the painting and the city was combed with Guillaum Appolinaire, the poet, and the painter Pabolo Picasso both suspects in the theft. Vincenzo was himself questioned twice! Even in the absence of the Mona Lisa, there were queues out the Louvre’s doors, with people waiting hours just to view what was now an empty spot on a wall!
Everyone in the city was obsessed and Vincenzo was unable to leave his apartment without seeing headlines of the theft. Everyone blamed everyone else. Patiently, Vincenzo waited for the furor to die down and the prominence of the story of the Mona Lisa’s theft to disappear. For two years, he hid the painting in his tiny Paris garret, waiting for a chance to leave the city with the painting. Finally, other stories such as the reaching of the South Pole by the Norwegian Roald Amundsen and the sinking of the Titanic eclipsed the story of the Mona Lisa and he felt it was safe to take the Mona Lisa home to Italy. Wanting compensation for his daring, Vincenzo offered the painting for sale to an antique dealer in Florence. The antique dealer insisted on bringing the museum director of the Uffuzi Gallery along with him to authenticate the painting. The director confirmed it was indeed the Mona Lisa, but as Vincenzo started to celebrate, the museum director continued, saying that it didn’t belong to Italy, the true owners were the French. Vincenzo was incensed, calling the museum director all sorts of names as he was arrested and taken away to be sentenced to a brief seven months in prison drowning in “gifts, flowers, tokens of love from [his] countrymen” who agreed with him that yes, the Mona Lisa belonged in Italy.
If you’d like to add The Stolen Smile to your child’s library, click here: The Stolen Smile. Visiting an art museum can be fun for everyone, I have some ideas to get you started on planning your visit here at 10 ways to help your children enjoy and appreciate art museums, If you’re interested in more children’s books about the Mona Lisa and the Louvre, plan a visit with Katie and the Mona Lisa and Simon and Adele all of whom visit the Louvre and the Mona Lisa.