Did the Nazis steal the Mona Lisa?

Over a century ago, Vincenzo Peruggia, an amateur Italian painter became responsible for the most famous act of theft. In 1911, Peruggia succeeded in stealing Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa from the Louvre Museum.

The firm he was working for as a carpenter, got hired to design and built some safety cases to protect the museum’s most famous paintings from being damaged. On August 2, 1911, dressed in a Louvre employee’s uniform, Peruggia hid inside a closet and waited there for the guards to distance from the place where the painting was on display.

Early in the morning, he slipped out of the closet and picked up the Mona Lisa painting from the Salon Carre of the Louvre and walked to a service staircase. There, he removed the frame and wrapped the painting in a white sheet.

When he arrived at the bottom of the stairs, he realized the door had been locked from the inside, so he unscrewed the doorknob, thinking that might just open the door, but it didn’t work out. He found himself trapped inside the museum, carrying the world’s most famous painting with him.

Shortly after, a plumber came up the stairs and let Peruggia out, thinking he is just a Louvre worker who had been locked inside by accident and spent the night waiting for someone to come and free him.

The announcement of the theft took over the international media which accused the museum of lack of security. During the investigation, both the head of the Louvre museum and the head of the Paris police were dismissed from their jobs, the CNN Edition: International reports.

According to a series of documents, the Mona Lisa is thought to had been found among other works stored by the Nazis in the ancient salt mine at Altaussee, in Austria. A report of the Operation Ebensburg stated that four Austrian double-agents managed to save some of the famous works hidden in the mine and that among those objects was the Louvre’s Mona Lisa.

Did the Nazis steal the Mona Lisa

Another document, dated December 12, 1945, reads “the Mona Lisa from Paris [is included in] 80 wagons of art and cultural objects from across Europe”. However, there is no record of the painting actually being part of the stolen art collected and stored by the Nazi.

The next document, dated June 16, 1945, states that the painting has been returned to the museum. So where was it during the war?

The Louvre confirmed that there was a copy of the painting, also from the 16th century, which was crated up in 1939 and sent off to numerous castles. It is believed that the museum may have kept the original work hidden in Paris, while the Nazis had the 16th century copy.

This is the reason why it never returned from Altaussee, or it could be the reason why it never left Paris. While some people believed it was the original when they saw it, the Monuments Men recognized it as a copy.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE