It was billed as the theft of the century. On Monday, August 21st, 1911 (a day when the gallery was closed) the painting of the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Musée du Louvre in Paris, where it had hung since 1797.
The thief was Vincenzo Peruggia (1881-1925), a twenty-nine-year-old Italian painter and decorator, who had worked briefly at the Louvre. Hiding the painting under his worker's smock, he would later claim that he had stolen the painting, believing it belonged, by rights, in Italy.
For the next two years Peruggia kept the painting under his bed in the Parisian boarding-house where he lived. However, in late November 1913 he wrote to an antiques-dealer in Florence, Alfredo Geri, offering to 'return' the Mona Lisa to Italy. Writing as 'Leonardo Vincenzo', Peruggia also demanded 500,000 lire.
On December 12th 'Leonardo Vincenzo' arrived in Florence by train and checked into the Albergo Tripoli-Italia on Via Panzani, a few blocks from the Duomo. He had with him a wooden trunk.
In room 20 of the hotel, in the presence of Alfredo Geri and Giovanni Poggi, director of the Uffizi Gallery, Peruggia opened the trunk to reveal, under a false bottom, the painting of the Mona Lisa. Later that day he was arrested.
The Albergo Tripoli-Italia lost no time in changing its name to the Albergo Gioconda. The albergo is still in business, but now trades under the name Hotel La Gioconda).
In Italy the painting of the Mona Lisa is known as La Gioconda, as it is thought to be a portrait of Lisa Gherardini (1479-1542), who, in 1495, married Francesco del Giocondo. Lisa del Giocondo becomes La Gioconda (Mrs Giocondo).
After its recovery the Mona Lisa went on a short triumphal tour of Italy before being returned to the Louvre on January 4th 1914. As for Vincenzo Peruggia, he spent six months in an Italian jail.