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Mona Lisa

One day in 1911, an Italian house painter named Vincenzo Peruggia, angered by incessant French taunts (he was often called a "macaroni eater") sought his revenge by stealing Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa (on a Sunday, when the Louvre was relatively unguarded) and hiding out in a hotel for more than a year.

Peruggia was let off with a lenient sentence on 'patriotic' grounds by an Italian court. The hotel was renamed the Giaconda.

And the damage to the Louvre's business? Incredibly, more people visited the museum during this interval -- to see the blank space on the wall where the Mona Lisa had once hung -- than had visited over the previous twelve years to see the painting itself.

[Norway's Edvard Munch museum enjoyed a similar increase (of more than 1000 people per week) following the theft of The Scream paintings in 2004. Seymour Reit's The Day They Stole the Mona Lisa provides a fascinating account of that theft. Some highlights:
* Though the painting was stolen on a Monday morning, the theft wasn't noticed until Tuesday at noon.
* Among the suspects were the Louvre's administrators, accused of staging the theft to boost attendance.
* The Paris Police blamed the Louvre for its inadequate security. The Louvre, in turn, ridiculed the various branches of law enforcement, which began to bicker among themselves. "When one department had an informer, the other side would arrest him to keep him from being of help. It was like a Samuel Beckett play..."
* Jokes, riddles, and cartoons about the theft soon appeared, as did sheet music which they sang in cafes. "There was a chorus line in one of the cabarets that came out all dressed as the Mona Lisa. I think they were topless."
* Postcards also appeared bearing Mona Lisa's image: leaving Paris with Leonardo da Vinci... thumbing her nose at France... on holiday in Nice...
* Since 1911, many have speculated that the real Mona Lisa was never recovered.]

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