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On August 21st, 1911, a person named Vincenzo Peruggia committed one of the most famous art heists in history. He stole one of the most remarkable paintings in the world, the Mona Lisa, made by Leonardo Da Vinci, from the Louvre in Paris. But who was Vincenzo Peruggia, and how did he get away with stealing the Mona Lisa? Vincenzo Peruggia was an Italian man who had moved to Paris. He then got a job in the Louvre, installing protective glass onto new paintings that the museum received. This job gave him special access to the secured art and a way to know how to access all the paintings in the Louvre, without tripping security set for criminals (like him). In his Louvre uniform, a white smock, Vincenzo Peruggia could walk in the gallery when no one else was there, and it was this access to the gallery that helped him steal the painting. After that, he had hoped he could sell the artwork to a wealthy person. But when news of the painting’s theft hit the media and police began offering a large reward for its return, he realized this might be more difficult than expected. When Peruggia eventually tried to sell it in the black market for a lot of money, he was caught instantly. This stunt, which dragged on for almost 3.5 years, helped make the Mona Lisa as famous as it is today.

Last summer, I was able to go see the Mona Lisa in the Louvre in person and learn all about it. The experience of it was truly phenomenal: from the bustling crowd in the small room to the far enhanced security around it, perhaps due to fear of another Peruggia. My first thought was the painting is way smaller than I expected. When I looked at the painting for the first time, I felt awed because I was in the room with one of the most valued works of art in the world, and it was just a couple of feet away from me. The painting itself is a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, an Italian noblewoman, although whether Da Vinci used a different person for the model is very controversial. I observed that Mona Lisa’s eyes followed me around the room, watching me as I explored. There are many stories to be told about the Louvre, like how the workers designed a metal cage to go around the painting in case of a fire, but the theft of the Mona Lisa has to be the most exciting one.

Recently, I read The Mona Lisa Vanishes by Nicholas Day, a nonfiction novel about how the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre. The writing style of this book was a narrative and explains the theft of the painting. Although written in the style of a history book, the author made the story engaging and funny. For example, on pages 248 and 249, Nicholas describes Da Vinci’s mathematics notebook in which Da Vinci wrote a short note about stopping his entry because his “soup was getting cold.” Instead of deleting that part from his story, Day keeps it in and writes, “He would go on, you see, but he has to eat.”

I learned a lot from Day’s book about the Mona Lisa, and at the same time, I was never tired of reading it. I enjoyed that the book had pictures with each chapter; this choice can help readers envision different parts of the book. I recommend this book to 5th and 6th graders wanting to learn more about art history, or someone planning a trip to Paris who wants to learn more about the story of the Mona Lisa.

The Mona Lisa Vanishes by Nicholas Day. Random House Studio, 2023. Buy the book here and help support Stone Soup in the process!

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