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Vandalism and theft of the “Mona Lisa”: has it been ruined?



The Mona Lisa (completed between 1503 and 1506) is a masterpiece of Italian Renaissance art and one of the most well-known paintings in the world (1452-1519). The artwork has been stolen and subjected to its fair share of destruction due to its fame, which has earned it great attention and enthralled millions of visitors each year at the Louvre Museum in Paris. The next essay will detail the historical mishaps that have befallen the masterwork. To give only one example, why did the Mona Lisa get defaced? What year did the Mona Lisa go missing? This post will answer these questions and more.

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Details about Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa

Datec. 1503 – 1506
ArtistLeonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)
MediumOil on wooden panel
Dimensions (cm)77 x 53
Where It Is Currently HousedLouvre Museum, Paris

Francesco del Giocondo, a Florentine silk merchant, commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to paint a portrait of his wife, Lisa Gherardini, known as the Mona Lisa (La Gioconda in Italian and La Joconde in French). The woman is seated against the backdrop of a distant countryside, staring straight at the observer with her signature enigmatic grin.

The usage of the sfumato technique adds another layer of uniqueness to the piece.

The term “sfumato,” which means “to evaporate like smoke” in Italian, was used to describe the practise of subtly blurring an image’s boundaries with shading. This creates a hazy look, softening the distinction between hues. By inviting Leonardo da Vinci to France in 1518, King François I was able to purchase the Mona Lisa and add it to the royal collections that are now on display at the Louvre Museum.

Mona Lisa
 Leonardo da Vinci‘s Mona Lisa (about 1503–1506) is in the public domain thanks to Leonardo da Vinci and Wikimedia Commons.

Historical Cases of Vandalism and Theft involving the Mona Lisa

There have been a total of five attacks on the famous Mona Lisa over her history, some of which were successful while others were not. We’ve compiled a timeline of events surrounding the theft and vandalism of the Mona Lisa for your perusal.

Theft in 1911

Vandalism or Theft?Theft
Who Did It?Vincenzo Peruggia and two accomplices
Was the Painting Damaged?No

What year did the Mona Lisa go missing? On the evening of August 21, 1911, an Italian museum employee named Vincenzo Peruggia and two others waited until the Louvre had closed before stealing the Mona Lisa from a storage cupboard.

Peruggia’s desire to bring the picture back to Italy reportedly led him to steal it.

Mona Lisa
Cover of La Domenica del Corriere, no. 26, September 1911, showing the theft of the Mona Lisa; La Domenica del Corriere Public domain, through Wikimedia Commons.

Nonetheless, he may not have had this as his true motivation for trying to sell the artwork to Florentine art dealer Mario Fratelli rather than donating it to an Italian museum two years after he first hid it in a trunk. Once Fratelli learned of Peruggia’s whereabouts, he immediately informed the authorities.

Although the “Mona Lisa” had already gained considerable notoriety before to the theft, it is considered that the media coverage and extensive police investigation contributed significantly to the work’s great public attention and eventual stardom.

Drenched in Acid in 1956

Vandalism or Theft?Vandalism
Who Did It?Name Unknown
Was the Painting Damaged?Yes

It was in 1956 that the Mona Lisa was subjected to its first and most severe attack. An act of vandalism occurred when the work was on display at Montauban, a city in the south of France. The canvas’s lower half has been punctured. Because of this, the museum decided to protect the painting by placing glass around it. No one knows what motivated the vandalism.

Perhaps since it was the first, there is less data available on this assault than on others.

Mona Lisa
Framed and on exhibit at the Louvre Museum is Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (c. 1503–1506) (photo by jimmyweeeCC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons).

Stoning the Mona Lisa in 1956

Vandalism or Theft?Vandalism
Who Did It?Hugo Unjaga Villegas
Was the Painting Damaged?Yes

Ugo Ungaza Villegas, a homeless Bolivian, threw a rock at the masterpiece the same year as the acid attack. According to him, he was walking around with a stone and suddenly got the urge to throw it at the Mona Lisa. Potentially, he wanted to go to jail just to have a safe place to spend the night. To what extent, then, has the Mona Lisa been damaged? The good news is that it doesn’t.

A tiny bit of paint came off her elbow when the rock shattered the glass, but otherwise the artwork was unharmed. After a few days, the damage had been expertly restored and the artwork was back on display.

Mona Lisa
The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, created between 1503 and 1506, is on exhibit at the Louvre Museum behind glass ( Bradley WeberCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons).

Painted Red in Tokyo in 1974

Vandalism or Theft?Attempted vandalism
Who Did It?Tomoko Yonezu
Was the Painting Damaged?No

Before 1974, when it was finally removed from the Louvre and taken on an official trip to Tokyo, the Mona Lisa seldom left France. A 25-year-old Japanese woman named Tomoko Yonezu tried to spray paint the art red on the first day it was on display at the National Museum in Tokyo.

She stated she was motivated to try vandalism after hearing claims from disability advocates that the National Museum was discriminating against people with disabilities by restricting entry to those who required help due to crowd management.

Twenty or thirty drops of red spray paint made it onto the painting when Yonezu decided to take action, but fortunately the Mona Lisa remained unharmed. Yonezu was found guilty of a crime and fined 3,000 yen, but her efforts led to the National Museum dedicating a whole day to handicapped visitors who wanted to see the artwork without interruption.

Hit With a Teacup in 2009

Vandalism or Theft?Attempted vandalism
Who Did It?Name unknown
Was the Painting Damaged?No

In 2009, a Russian lady smashed the Mona Lisa with a teacup. Because she had been refused French citizenship, she had concealed the teacup in her luggage and vented her frustration on the artwork. Shockingly, the sole casualty was the teacup that had been carelessly thrown against the painting’s glass case.

The “Mona Lisa” now resides in its own dedicated exhibit, the Salle des États. Changes were made to the display case this year.

The Cake Incident in 2022

Vandalism or Theft?Attempted vandalism
Who Did It?36-Year-old male
Was the Painting Damaged?No

On May 29th, 2022, a man aged 36 tried to vandalise the Mona Lisa by spreading cake on the glass that surrounds it. From the looks of the footage, the guy was using a wheelchair to get close to the artwork while also wearing what seemed to be a wig. For those with mobility impairments, the Louvre Museum has set up special viewing procedures that enable them to bypass the regular line of visitors and go directly to the front of the exhibit.

The guy allegedly stood next to the picture and tossed a pastry he had concealed in his pocket at the artwork, as stated in a statement released by the Louvre.

To what extent, then, has the Mona Lisa been damaged? Thankfully not, since it was once again safeguarded by its display case. The Paris prosecutor’s office claims that the individual was detained and admitted to a mental health facility. His comments, captured on footage shared on social media, included the following: “There are individuals who are killing the Earth. Artists, please consider the planet we live on. Which is why I took this action. Remember Earth in your thoughts.

All things considered, the “Mona Lisa” is a picture that tends to draw in a lot of people. Salvador Dali wondered as early as 1963 if the piece “had had a potential, unique in all art history, to evoke the most ferocious and varied sorts of aggressions.” Despite the assaults, the book is still widely recognised as a masterwork by one of the Renaissance’s leading thinkers. If you found this article on the theft and vandalism of the “Mona Lisa” to be informative, we recommend reading more about the painting’s background.

F.A.Q. – Frequently Asked Questions

The Mona Lisa’s Notoriety – Why?

Upon first seeing the very little Mona Lisa, onlookers may be perplexed by all the hubbub. Some factors have contributed to its recent success. Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most famous painters and innovators in history, painted it in the Renaissance, and he used the sfumato technique, which was considered to be one of the gold standards of painting at the time. Even during Leonardo da Vinci’s lifetime, the picture was recognised for its realistic detail. The painting’s origin is another factor in its prestige; it was first acquired by King François I and placed in the royal collection; later, it hung in Napoleon’s chamber; and finally, it was given pride of place at the Louvre, one of the world’s most popular museums. The subsequent chain of events, including the work being stolen, only served to increase the notoriety of the original.

What Motivated the Vandalism of the Mona Lisa?

The vandals who defaced the Mona Lisa did so for various reasons. The 2009 incident included a Russian lady who threw a teacup at the art out of spite and fury for the French. Both the 2022 cake vandalism and the 1974 spray paint incident were attempts to draw attention to a cause, such as the need to address climate change or provide better services for the handicapped. Whatever the case may be, the painting’s prominence and prestige make it a perfect target. Anyone who wants to make a point by assaulting the Mona Lisa will receive plenty of coverage.