What Happened When the Mona Lisa Was Stolen?

In August 1911, Vincenzo Peruggia walked out of the Louvre with the Mona Lisa hidden under his jacket. How was the world's most famous painting later recovered? Hear the whole story in Giles Milton's Unknown History podcast.

Giles Milton
2-minute read
Episode #24


He could scarcely believe the ease with which he carried out the crime. On Monday August 21st in 1911, an Italian eccentric named Vincenzo Peruggia walked out of the Louvre with the Mona Lisa tucked under his jacket.

No one saw him steal the world’s most famous painting; no one even heard him remove it from the wall. He managed to slip out of the gallery unnoticed and take the painting back to his apartment.

The Louvre was closed to the public each Monday, making it the perfect time to undertake the theft. Peruggia entered the museum dressed in white overalls and pretending to be a work-man. He then made his way to the gallery where Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting was displayed and simply lifted its box frame off the wall.

None of the Louvre’s employees noticed that the painting was missing. Twelve hours after it was stolen, the duty caretaker reported to his boss that everything in the museum was in order.

Nobody even remarked on the painting’s absence the following morning. Paintings in the Louvre were often removed from the walls, because the museum’s photographers were allowed to take them  to their studios without having to sign them out.

When the artist Louis Béroud went to look at the Mona Lisa that Tuesday morning, he found four iron hooks in the place where she normally hung. He presumed that  a photographer had taken her and joked with the guard: ‘When women are not with their lovers, they are apt to be with their photographers.’

To find out the answer, listen to the full episode of our podcast, Unknown History, in the top right hand player of this page or on iTunesStitcher, and Spotify. Plus, connect with Giles on Twitter and Facebook


This post is roughly excerpted from When Churchill Slaughtered Sheep and Stalin Robbed a Bank. You can preorder a copy of the book, due out in November 2016, on AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieboundBooks-a-Million, and Apple

About the Author

Giles Milton

Giles Milton is a writer and historian who graduated from the University of Bristol. He is an internationally bestselling author of nine works of narrative non-fiction and three novels. His books have been translated into more than 20 languages and serialized by the BBC.