Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
In 1911, an employee of the Louvre in Paris snatched away the "Mona Lisa," perhaps the world's most famous painting. After keeping Leonardo's masterpiece hidden under his bed for two years, the thief, Vincenzo Perugia, tried to sell it to his native Italy. He was promptly arrested, but served only a year in prison because he claimed he was doing his patriotic duty by returning the painting to the land of its creator. "Mona Lisa," meanwhile, made a triumphant tour of Europe before being returned to France. An excerpt from The Post of Dec. 15, 1913:
Florence, Dec. 14. --
Aclose examination of the painting "Mona Lisa" has disclosed a slight abrasion on the cheek and a scratch on the left shoulder, which were received while the picture was in the hands of Vincenzo Perugia.
The chief of police said Perugia firmly believes that he has rendered a service to Italy, and is under the impression that his imprisonment was necessary to save the face of the authorities, and that he soon will be released and rewarded.
Great crowds gathered at the Uffizi gallery today, where the "Mona Lisa" was exhibited. Although strong cordons of caribineers were drawn up around the building and others guarded the entrances and halls, the struggles of the multitude to get inside resulted in great disorder. Soldiers were thrust aside or knocked down, windows were smashed, and the people swept through, being forced out the exits by the surging masses behind.
In four hours more than 30,000 persons viewed the Leonardo masterpiece. When order was partially restored 125 visitors on the average were admitted every minute.
Paris, Dec. 14. --
Detective Nicausse has made an important discovery among the effects of Vincenzo Perugia which seems to throw fresh light on his theft of "Mona Lisa." The discovery tends to show that in taking the picture from the Louvre, Perugia was not actuated by purely patriotic motives, as he pretended was the case, and that the theft was long contemplated.
Among a mass of miscellaneous papers were two note books, dated December, 1910, the time when Perugia was employed by a firm of decorators which was engaged at the Louvre in placing glasses on pictures. The writing in the note books, the detective says, is in the hand of Perugia. The first book contains a list of celebrated multimillionaires, including the late J. Pierpont Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie. The second contains a list of art dealers and collectors, not only in the Italian cities of Rome, Florence, and Naples, but in Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfurt, and other German cities. In this list appears the name of Signor Geri, the antiquary of Florence.
The police investigations have revealed the fact that Perugia was deeply in love with an exceedingly beautiful girl, the image of "Mona Lisa." Ninety-three fervent love letters from the girl, signed Mathilde, were found in Perugia's room. It appears that some years ago Mathilde was brought to a dance hall by another Italian who quarreled with and stabbed her and then fled. Perugia witnessed the attack upon the girl, and, being struck by her beauty, lifted her into a cab and took her to the home of an old Italian woman, who nursed her back to health.
The acquaintance thus begun developed into an ardent love affair. The police hope to obtain from the girl information concerning Perugia which would clear up the question as to whether he had accomplices in the abstraction of the painting from the Louvre. They have so far, however, been unable to find any trace of her.