"Historian Charney tracks the eventful life of the Mona Lisa in this rollicking account.... The result is both a thrilling tale of true crime and a rigorous work of art history." — Publishers Weekly, Starred ReviewIf you read one book on the Mona Lisa, let this be it. From the artwork to its theft and role in popular culture, The Thefts of the Mona Lisa provides the complete story, as written by a bestselling, Pulitzer finalist.
Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait, called the Mona Lisa, is without doubt the world’s most famous painting. It achieved its fame not only because it is a remarkable example of Renaissance portraiture, created by an acclaimed artistic and scientific genius, but because of its criminal history. The Mona Lisa (also called La Gioconda or La Joconde) was stolen on 21 August 1911 by an Italian, Vincenzo Peruggia. Peruggia was under the mistaken impression that the Mona Lisa had been stolen from Italy during the Napoleonic era, and he wished to take back for Italy one of his country’s greatest treasures. His successful theft of the painting from the Louvre, the farcical manhunt that followed, and Peruggia’s subsequent trial in Florence were highly publicized, sparking the attention of the international media, and catapulting an already admired painting into stratospheric heights of fame. This book reveals the art and criminal history of the Mona Lisa.
Charney examines the criminal biography of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, with a focus on separating fact from fiction in the story of what is not only the most famous art heist in history, but which is the single most famous theft of all time. In the process he delves into Leonardo’s creation of the Mona Lisa, discusses why it is so famous, and investigates two other events in its history of theft and renown. First, it examines the so-called “affaire des statuettes,” in which Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire were arrested under suspicion of involvement in the theft of the Mona Lisa. Second, there has long been a question as to whether the Nazis stole the Mona Lisa during the Second World War—a question that this book seeks to resolve.
Noah Charney is an internationally best-selling author of more than a dozen books and a professor of art history specializing in art crime. His novel, The Art Thief, was a bestseller in five countries and is translated into 17 languages. His The Art of Forgery, Stealing the Mystic Lamb and Slovenology were international bestsellers. His book Collector of Lives: Giorgio Vasari and the Invention of Art was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Charney is now a professor at University of Ljubljana in Slovenia.
Historian Charney tracks the eventful life of the Mona Lisa in this rollicking account. Florentine nobleman Francesco del Giocondo commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to paint a portrait of his wife Lisa in 1503. When the artist died in 1519 France, the still-unfinished painting passed into the hands of his assistant Salai, who sold it to French king François I. Following that exchange, the painting came into the possession of Napoleon, who hung it on his bedroom wall at the Tuilleries Palace. In the early 1800s, it became part of the permanent collection at the Louvre, from where it was stolen in 1911 by Italian handyman Vincenzo Peruggia, who sought to 'repatriate' the painting to Florence, falsely believing that Napoleon had looted it from his country a century before. (At one point during the ensuing investigation, suspicion fell on Pablo Picasso because he’d bought Iberian statues stolen from the Louvre several years before.) After the Mona Lisa was recovered in 1913 with the help of an Italian gallery owner, French curators hid the artwork in chateaus during WWII, though Charney notes a nearly three-year gap in which its whereabouts are still undocumented. Throughout, Charney succeeds in separating myth and legend from fact as he uncovers the background behind the artwork’s celebrity. The result is both a thrilling tale of true crime and a rigorous work of art history.
After opening with a gripping narration of the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911, Charney proceeds with an excellent chapter on the painting’s history. This portion includes a synopsis of da Vinci’s career and legacy; the author explains how critical reception to the Mona Lisa changed over time, offering valuable perspective on how the theft contributed to the portrait’s place in popular culture.
In The Thefts of the Mona Lisa, Noah Charney reveals fascinating details about the beguiling masterpiece’s artistic and social history, including its infamous 1911 theft and two years’ absence from the Louvre. The book includes incredible details about museum security before the theft, with objets d’art displayed in a casual way—as if they were in someone’s living room. A century ago, artworks were uncased, unanchored, and unguarded—not safe behind bulletproof glass as the painting is now. Charney next relays how the startling theft was accomplished, reveals the intriguing motives behind the heist, and covers the worldwide media frenzy that followed. An account of how Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire were involved in a contemporary art theft from the Louvre layers in even more astonishing details. Charney’s assured, witty prose covers other art thefts too, alongside nerve-wracking accounts of how museum staff safeguarded and moved French art treasures throughout the countryside during World War II, helping the portrait to escape from the Nazis. There’s also consideration of The Mona Lisa “as a prism through which to consider the idea of fame”: Charney notes that The Mona Lisa is a familiar but “invisible icon,” with most knowing little about the subject and never gazing on the enigmatic portrait at length. He remedies this with appealing stories about Leonardo da Vinci’s life, Renaissance beauty standards, and modern techniques, musing on how The Mona Lisa looked when it was freshly painted. And he uses memorable passages about contemporary art crimes—some with violent, organized crime aspects—to dispel common myths about the art world. The Thefts of the Mona Lisa is a thorough, diverting analysis of the Renaissance painting—the world’s most recognizable artwork and visage.
The Thefts of the Mona Lisa reads like a thriller. But this stuff is ALL real. It happened. You’re going to learn all about how and why one of the most famous works of art on the planet has attracted the attention of so many thieves and fanatics.” From the Foreword by New York Times best-selling author Steve Berry
This book reads like a thriller, but a historically sound art thriller. It is not just about the famous 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa but covers the entire background to the theft and its subsequent denouement with, in addition, plenty of judicious art history. Read it before (and after) seeing the real thing.
Includes 21 photographs in full color.