cover image The Thefts of the ‘Mona Lisa’: The Complete Story of the World’s Most Famous Artwork

The Thefts of the ‘Mona Lisa’: The Complete Story of the World’s Most Famous Artwork

Noah Charney. Rowman and Littlefield, $32 (176p) ISBN 978-1-5381-8136-2

Historian Charney (Brushed Aside) tracks the eventful life of the Mona Lisa in this rollicking account. Florentine nobleman Francesco del Giocondo commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to paint a portrait of his wife Lisa in 1503. When the artist died in 1519 France, the still-unfinished painting passed into the hands of his assistant Salai, who sold it to French king François I. Following that exchange, the painting came into the possession of Napoleon, who hung it on his bedroom wall at the Tuilleries Palace. In the early 1800s, it became part of the permanent collection at the Louvre, from where it was stolen in 1911 by Italian handyman Vincenzo Peruggia, who sought to “repatriate” the painting to Florence, falsely believing that Napoleon had looted it from his country a century before. (At one point during the ensuing investigation, suspicion fell on Pablo Picasso because he’d bought Iberian statues stolen from the Louvre several years before.) After the Mona Lisa was recovered in 1913 with the help of an Italian gallery owner, French curators hid the artwork in chateaus during WWII, though Charney notes a nearly three-year gap in which its whereabouts are still undocumented. Throughout, Charney succeeds in separating myth and legend from fact as he uncovers the background behind the artwork’s celebrity. The result is both a thrilling tale of true crime and a rigorous work of art history. (Feb.)