The greatest heists in art history

posted by Jason Kottke Aug 23, 2004

The greatest heists in art history.

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ChrisAug 23, 2004 at 4:43PM

Just FYI, the BBC News link about art heists is woefully inadequate on topic of the Mona Lisa heist in 1911, which is a shame since it was one of the most brilliant and daring heists ever undertaken. I plan to write them about it, too, but if you're at all interested:

The theft was masterminded by Eduardo de Valfierno, a con-man who had six forgeries of the Mona Lisa painted and shipped to various parts of the world before the theft took place, knowing customs would not be looking for the famous painting (it having not been stolen yet). Having lined up buyers beforehand, he then hired Vincenzo Peruggia, a carpenter who had helped create the Mona Lisa's protective case, to hide in the museum overnight with several accomplices. They simply walked out with the painting in the morning, and once the story of the theft was reported worldwide, Valfierno sold his six fake Mona Lisas to his six buyers, each of whom through they were getting the real deal. Knowing that even if they later discovered their paintings were forgeries they certainly couldn't report it to anyone, and knowing that even if the real Mona Lisa wound up being recovered he could assure his buyers that *it* was the forgery, Valfierno didn't actually need the real Mona Lisa, and never contacted Peruggia again after the crime. Peruggia kept the painting in his apartment, just a few blocks from the Louvre, and waited for some word from Valfierno for two years before getting caught trying to sell the painting to an art dealer.

My description doesn't do the story justice at all, but there is a book called "The Day They Stole The Mona Lisa" by Seymour Reit that does. I believe it is out of print, but I'm sure copies can be found in used bookstores or the library. While his writing is a bit bland, the story itself is so amazing and exciting it's worth a read, and there are some interesting photographs and analysis of some of the many fakes. Best. Con. Ever.


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