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Vicenzo Peruggia
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    (October 8, 1881-October 8, 1925)
    Born in Dumenza, Italy
    Employee at the Louvre Museum in Paris
    Stole the Mona Lisa (August 21, 1911)
    Arrested attempting to sell the Mona Lisa to an art gallery in Florence, Italy (1913)
    He said he wanted to return the Mona Lisa to its homeland ‘after it was stolen by Napoleon.’ (Actually, Leonardo da Vinci had given the painting to King Francis I more than two centuries before Napoleon was born.)
    Despite claiming to have purely patriotic motives, he asked for a ‘reward’ of 500,000 lire (equivalent to $95,000) for the Mona Lisa.
    A few months after the theft, he wrote to his father that he had secured his fortune.
    A popular (but never proven) story claimed that he had been hired to steal the Mona Lisa by a conman who then sold forgeries to six American millionaires, who each believed he had bought the original.
    He constantly disrupted his trial, arguing with the judge, the prosecutor and his own attorney.
    He sank into such obscurity that many papers did not report his death until 1947, when a different Vicenzo Peruggia died.
    Many art historians claim that publicity from the theft was responsible for catapulting the Mona Lisa to its status as the world’s most famous painting.
    Indeed, after the theft people lined up outside the Louvre just to see the space where the Mona Lisa used to be.
    He was questioned twice by French police without being suspected.
    The Mona Lisa was returned to the Louvre without a scratch.
    The courts largely bought his ‘I did it out of patriotism’ defense, handing down a relatively light prison sentence of 1 year and 15 days (of which he served seven months).

Credit: C. Fishel

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