The Robber Makes Contact
In the Autumn of 1913, two years after the Mona Lisa was stolen, a well-known antique dealer, Alfredo Geri, innocently placed an ad in several Italian newspapers which stated that he was "a buyer at good prices of art objects of every sort." 4
Soon after he placed the ad, Geri received a letter dated November 29 (1913), that stated the writer was in possession of the stolen Mona Lisa. The letter had a post office box in Paris as a return address and had been signed only as "Leonardo."
Though Geri thought he was dealing with someone who had a copy rather than the real Mona Lisa, he contacted Commendatore Giovanni Poggi, museum director of the Uffizi (museum in Florence, Italy). Together, they decided that Geri would write a letter in return saying that he would need to see the painting before he could offer a price.
Another letter came almost immediately asking Geri to go to Paris to see the painting. Geri replied, stating that he could not go to Paris, but, instead, arranged for "Leonardo" to meet him in Milan on December 22.
On December 10, 1913, an Italian man with a mustache appeared at Geri's sales office in Florence. After waiting for other customers to leave, the stranger told Geri that he was Leonardo Vincenzo and that he had the Mona Lisa back in his hotel room. Leonardo stated that he wanted a half million lire for the painting. Leonardo explained that he had stolen the painting in order to restore to Italy what had been stolen from it by Napoleon. Thus, Leonardo made the stipulation that the Mona Lisa was to be hung at the Uffizi and never given back to France.
With some quick, clear thinking, Geri agreed to the price but said the director of the Uffizi would want to see the painting before agreeing to hang it in the museum. Leonardo then suggested they meet in his hotel room the next day.
Upon his leaving, Geri contacted the police and the Uffizi.
The following day, Geri and Poggi (the museum director) appeared at Leonardo's hotel room. Leonardo pulled out a wooden trunk. After opening the trunk, Leonardo pulled out a pair of underwear, some old shoes, and a shirt. Then Leonardo removed a false bottom -- and there lay the Mona Lisa.
Geri and the museum director noticed and recognized the Louvre seal on the back of the painting. This was obviously the real Mona Lisa.
The museum director said that he would need to compare the painting with other works by Leonardo da Vinci. They then walked out with the painting.
Leonardo Vincenzo, whose real name was Vincenzo Peruggia, was arrested.
The story of the caper was actually much simpler than many had theorized. Vincenzo Peruggia, born in Italy, had worked in Paris at the Louvre in 1908. Still known by many of the guards, Peruggia had walked into the museum, noticed the Salon Carré empty, grabbed the Mona Lisa, went to the staircase, removed the painting from its frame, and walked out of the museum with the Mona Lisa under his painters smock.
Peruggia hadn't had a plan to dispose of the painting; his only goal was to return it to Italy.
The public went wild at the news of finding the Mona Lisa. The painting was displayed throughout Italy before it was returned to France on December 30, 1913.
1. Roy McMullen, Mona Lisa: The Picture and the Myth (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1975) 200.
2. Théophile Homolle as quoted in McMullen, Mona Lisa 198.
3. Prefect Lépine as quoted in "'La Gioconda' is Stolen in Paris," New York Times, 23 Aug. 1911, pg. 1.
4. McMullen, Mona Lisa 207.
"Find 'Mona Lisa,' Arrest Robber," New York Times 13 Dec. 1913: pg. 1.
"'La Gioconda' is Stolen in Paris," New York Times 23 Aug. 1911: pg. 1.
McMullen, Roy. Mona Lisa: The Picture and the Myth. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1975.