Rigorous study of the circumstances, theories and individuals surrounding the 1911 theft of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous masterpiece.
Since her creation in 1503, Mona Lisa has served as muse, riddle and obsession for scholars, scientists, musicians, writers and art patrons. At the height of Europe’s Belle Époque, she disappeared, seemingly right from under the noses of Louvre guards, plunging the worlds of both high culture and regular society into grief and outrage. For more than two years, rumors, parody and scandalous accusations peppered global headlines, as investigators struggled to piece together the crime and, most crucially, identify the culprit. Citizens of every echelon were suspect, from museum employees to denizens of the art world, including painters, collectors and dealers. Various theories of collaborations and plots swirled around for decades. Scotti (Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal: Building St. Peter’s, 2006, etc.) masterfully excavates historical truths and brazen speculations, deftly interlacing them into a gracefully crafted account that weds heady prose to shrewd investigative journalism. Her elegant yet bold reconsideration of the most famous art crime in history offers a rare meditation on the notion of motive. Analyzing a work of art that has been anthropomorphized into mythic status for five centuries, Scotti nails it: “When Mona Lisa slipped out of her frames, she seemed to change from a missing masterpiece to a missing person. She came alive in the popular imagination. The public felt her loss as emotionally as an abduction or kidnapping.” More nuanced and focused than Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler’s The Crimes of Paris (2009), Scotti’s inquiry peels away veils of hearsay and sensationalism to reveal a caper as enigmatic as its victim.
Mystery fans, history buffs and culture vultures alike will savor this delectable immersion in the mindset of an age.