The Great Mona Lisa Heist

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This morning marks an oddball anniversary. It was 98 years ago today that Mona Lisa disappeared from the walls of its gallery in the Louvre. Early on the morning of Aug. 21, 1911, someone made off with what was even then the world’s most famous painting. It stayed missing for more than two years and for much of that time it was feared that Leonardo’s masterpiece was gone for good.

The case is still something of a mystery, though one that may finally get cleared up in an investigative documentary that’s expected to start making the festival circuit next year. For 17 years Joe Medeiros was head writer for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. But for much longer he’s been preoccupied with the Mona Lisa heist. For the last several years he and his wife Justine have been working together on the film, which they’re calling The Missing Piece. We know that the thief was an Italian carpenter, Vincenzo Peruggia, who had worked at the Louvre. What we don’t know is if he had accomplices or if he stole the painting at the direction of anyone else, though at his trial, where he was convicted, he insisted he did not. But the Medeiroses, who tracked down Peruggia’s descendants in Italy, found the Paris apartment where he stashed the painting for years and turned up some new correspondence, believe they’ve filled in the blanks.

A few months ago I reviewed two new books about the thefts in which I let off some steam about a completely implausible and unsubstantiated “explanation” of the case that’s been floating around for decades and still finds its way into the books of authors who should know better. Not long after I was contacted by Joe Medeiros, who asked if I would do a talking head interview for his film. (If nothing else my on-camera appearance has convinced me to abandon all hope of a movie career, unless it’s to star in a remake of Nosferatu.) To mark the anniversary of the theft they’ve mounted a funny little trailer for the film on YouTube, which you can find here. We’ll all have to wait for the completed film to find out just what this missing piece is.