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Enigmatic Smile stolen 100 years ago

August 22, 2011 - PARIS

On 22 Aug 1911, France was in a state of shock when the most famous painting in the world, Leonardo da Vinci's 16th Century portrait Mona Lisa, also known as La Giaconda, was stolen from the Musée du Louvre. The theft set off an investigation full of red herrings and twists that led to the safe return of the portrait in 1913. In the centenary year, another investigation is under way - to identify the real-life woman with the enigmatic smile, the artist's model.

On 22 Aug 1911, France was in a state of shock when the most famous painting in the world, Leonardo da Vinci's 16th Century portrait Mona Lisa, also known as La Giaconda, was stolen from the Musée du Louvre.The theft set off an investigation full of red herrings and twists that led to the safe return of the portrait in 1913. In the centenary year, another investigation is under way -; to identify the real-life woman with the enigmatic smile, the artist's model. A team of researchers in Italy has begun a search for the tomb of a woman who may have been the model for the portrait, which had been brought to France from Florence in Italy at the request of Napoleon. The team is using a special radar device at a convent in Florence, where it thinks the body of the woman, Lisa Gherardini, is buried. According to the BBC, the team hopes to find skull fragments that would aid a facial reconstruction. The BBC notes that the identity of the enigmatic Mona Lisa remains one of the great mysteries of the art world. An Italian member of staff, named Peruggia, was finally arrested for the 1911 theft, his motive being that the work of art should be on show in an Italian museum. He had hid in a broom cupboard and carried it out under his coat when the museum closed. The Louvre was closed for an entire week to aid in the investigation, and none other than Pablo Picasso was held under suspicion. Peruggia grew impatient and was finally caught when he attempted to sell it to the directors of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. It was exhibited all over Italy, then returned to the Louvre in 1913. Peruggia was given only a six month jail sentence in Italy for what was regarded as a patriotic act. A collection of original pieces of art from the Art Modest movement, which were heavily inspired by the portrait, will be displayed in Montauban near Toulouse throughout August to mark the centenary. The exhibition is organized by the bookshop owner -; Maurice Baux and the Friends of Mona Lisa (Amis de Mona Lisa). Baux Livres Bookshop (Bouquiniste) is located under the arches of the Place Nationale. (WRITTEN APR 2011) STORY SUPPLIED BY NEWSAHEAD CORRESPONDENT RACHEL RAE

Mona Lisa (Encyclopedia Britannica)

Italy: Hunt begins in Florence for Mona Lisa model (BBC 27 Apr 2011)

Date written/update: 2011-08-22