How Did the Mona Lisa Become Famous?

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The Mona Lisa was an important and respected Renaissance painting, but it didn’t become famous until it was stolen in 1911. Leonardo da Vinci painted the portrait around 1507, and it wasn’t until the 1860s that critics recognized it as a masterpiece. However, the painting’s greatness was not recognized much outside of a circle of critics and art lovers. This all changed in August of 1911.

Three Italian handymen hid in a storeroom of the Louvre overnight on August 21st, 1911. The next morning they ripped the Mona Lisa off the wall and out of it’s frame, rolled it up and stole it. The mastermind behind the caper, Vincenzo Perugia, hoped to quietly barter or sell the painting on the black market. Unfortunately for him, the Louvre announced the theft and the media went into a frenzy. The heist occupied newspaper headlines around the globe and wanted posters all around Paris. The painting Perugia had stolen to unload for a bit of cash quickly became the most famous painting in the world.

Unable to sell the wildly famous painting, Perugia hid the Mona Lisa away in the false bottom of a wooden trunk of his room for two years. In 1913 he left Paris for Florence, where he tried to sell it to an art dealer. The art dealer immediately called the police, and Perugia was arrested. He served eight months in prison. Today, over eight million people venture to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa every year.