Vincenzo Peruggia

Vincenzo Peruggia

A police photograph of Vincenzo Peruggia in 1911.
Born (1881-10-08)October 8, 1881
Dumenza, Varese, Italy
Died October 8, 1925(1925-10-08) (aged 44)
Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, France
Nationality Italian
Known for theft of the Mona Lisa

Vincenzo Peruggia (October 8, 1881 – October 8, 1925) was an Italian thief, most famous for stealing the Mona Lisa on 21 August 1911. Born in Dumenza, Varese, Italy, he died in Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, France.[1]


In 1911, Peruggia perpetrated what has been described as the greatest art theft of the 20th century. It was a police theory that the former Louvre worker hid inside the museum on Sunday, August 20, knowing the museum would be closed the following day. But, according to Peruggia's interrogation in Florence after his arrest,[2] he entered the museum on Monday, August 21 around 7 am, through the door where the other Louvre workers were entering. He said he wore one of the white smocks that museum employees customarily wore and was indistinguishable from the other workers. When the Salon Carré, where the Mona Lisa hung was empty, he lifted off the painting off the four iron pegs that secured it to the wall and took it to a nearby service staircase. There, he removed the protective case and frame. Some people report that he concealed the painting (which da Vinci painted on wood) under his smock. But Peruggia was only 5'3",[3] and the Mona Lisa measures approx. 21" x 30", so it would not fit under a smock worn by someone his size. Instead, he said he took off his smock and wrapped it around the painting, tucked it under his arm, and left the Louvre through the same door he had entered.[4]

Peruggia hid the painting in his apartment in Paris.[5] Supposedly, when police arrived to search his apartment and question him, they accepted his alibi that he had been working at a different location on the day of the theft.

After keeping the painting hidden in a trunk in his apartment for two years, Peruggia returned to Italy with it. He kept it in his apartment in Florence, Italy but grew impatient, and was finally caught when he contacted Alfredo Geri, the owner of an art gallery in Florence. Geri's story conflicts with Peruggia's, but it was clear that Peruggia expected a reward for returning the painting to what he regarded as its "homeland". Geri called in Giovanni Poggi, director of the Uffizi Gallery, who authenticated the painting. Poggi and Geri, after taking the painting for "safekeeping", informed the police, who arrested Peruggia at his hotel.[5] After its recovery, the painting was exhibited all over Italy with banner headlines rejoicing its return and then returned to the Louvre in 1913.

Later life and personal life

Peruggia was released from jail after a short time and served in the Italian army during World War I. He later married, had one daughter, Celestina, returned to France, and continued to work as a painter decorator using his birth name Pietro Peruggia.[1]


He died on October 8, 1925 (his 44th birthday) in the town of Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, France. His death was not widely reported on by the media; obituaries appeared mistakenly only when another Vincenzo Peruggia died in Haute-Savoie in 1947.[6]


There are currently two predominant theories regarding the theft of the Mona Lisa.


Peruggia said he did it for a patriotic reason: he wanted to bring the painting back for display in Italy[5] "after it was stolen by Napoleon". Although perhaps sincere in his motive, Vincenzo may not have known that Leonardo da Vinci took this painting as a gift for Francis I when he moved to France to become a painter in his court during the 16th century, 250 years before Napoleon's birth.

Experts have questioned the "patriotism" motive on the grounds that—were patriotism the true motive—Peruggia would have donated the painting to an Italian museum, rather than attempted to profit from its sale. The question of money is also confirmed by letters that Peruggia sent to his father after the theft. One December 22, 1911, four months after the theft, he wrote that Paris was where "I will make my fortune and that his (fortune) will arrive in one shot." [7] The following year (1912), he wrote: "I am making a vow for you to live long and enjoy the prize that your son is about to realize for you and for all our family."

Put on trial, the court agreed to some extent that Peruggia committed his crime for patriotic reasons and gave him a lenient sentence. He was sent to jail for one year and 15 days, but was hailed as a great patriot in Italy and served only seven months in jail.[5]

Criminal conspiracy

Another theory emerged later. The theft may have been encouraged or masterminded by Eduardo de Valfierno, a con-man who had commissioned the French art forger Yves Chaudron to make copies of the painting so he could sell them as the missing original. The copies would have gone up in value if the original were stolen. This theory is based entirely on a 1932 article by former Hearst journalist Karl Decker in The Saturday Evening Post. Decker claimed to have known "Valfierno" and heard the story from him in 1913, promising not to print it until he learned of Valfierno's death. There is no external confirmation for this tale.[8]

In art, entertainment, and media


  1. 1 2 (Italian) Mio padre, il ladro della Gioconda
  2. Extrait du Proces-Verbal de la confrontation de M. Vignolle avec Peruggia, Dec. 20. 1913, Archives Nationales, Paris
  3. Peruggia mugshot, January 25, 1909, Archives Nationales, Paris
  4. Mona Lisa Is Missing, 2013, Virgil Films, dir. Joe Medeiros
  5. 1 2 3 4 Chua-Eoan, Howard (March 1, 2007). "STEALING THE MONA LISA, 1911". The Top 25 Crimes of the Century. Time Magazine. Retrieved 2007-08-15.
  6. Who stole the Mona Lisa?,, August 2011
  7. Peruggia Letter Dec. 22, 1911, Archivio di Stato, Florence
  8. Nilsson, Jeff. "100 Years Ago: The Mastermind Behind the Mona Lisa Heist". Saturday Evening Post. Curtis Publishing. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
  9. IMDb
  10. Video on YouTube


External links

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