How do you come to be regarded as one of history’s most famous art thieves? By absconding with the world’s most famous work of art, naturally (plus, a few celebrity cameos for good measure).
It all started in the early morning hours of August 21, 1911, when Vincenzo Peruggia entered the Louvre dressed as an employee. When the room where the Mona Lisa was on display was empty, he simply plucked it off the wall and slipped away. Its theft was, understandably, a sensational story with even Franz Kafka numbering among the people who went to the Louvre just to look at the place on the wall where DaVinci’s masterpiece had hung. Police even suspected Pablo Picasso as being a part of art thieves.
Meanwhile, Peruggia returned to his native Italy with the Mona Lisa in tow. While in the process of attempting to sell the painting, he was discovered. Peruggia then claimed to have stolen the painting out of national pride, saying it had been stolen by Napoleon (even though, in reality, the painting was sold to a French king by DaVinci’s assistant who had initially inherited it).
Or was Peruggia a patsy working on behalf of a con artist mastermind?
In 1932, a story appeared in the Saturday Evening Press wherein writer Karl Decker wrote about meeting an Argentine con man called Marques Eduardo de Valfierno who claimed to have put the heist in motion. Valfierno’s alleged plan was to pay Peruggia to steal the painting and then shop six forgeries of the Mona Lisa to potential buyers.
Or did he?
Other than Decker’s story, there’s no evidence that anyone by the name Eduardo de Valfierno existed, let alone masterminded one of the most notorious art thefts in history.