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Tales of La Gioconda–Part 2 Posted by on Apr 23, 2012 in Art, History

It’s Monday the 21st of August 1911, the Louvre museum is closed to the public, and only a few people with special permission are allowed in. Amongst them is Louis Berould, who is hoping to paint a copy of the Monna Lisa. When he reaches the gallery where La Gioconda is exhibited, Berould finds an empty space on the wall where the world’s most famous portrait normally hangs. Annoyed, he complains to the custodian, who suggests that the painting has probably been taken down to be photographed, and promises to make some enquiries. A search of all rooms and cellars follows, but by the following day nothing has turned up … it appears that the Monna Lisa has been stolen!

Panic strikes and over the following weeks more than a thousand people are stopped and questioned by the Parisian police, including the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire and the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. Apollinaire is famous for having declared that all works of art preserved in museums should be burned to make space for modern art, while Picasso is known for having joked: “I’m going to the Louvre, does anybody need anything?”. However, they are soon released, and the tip off given against Apollinaire by his former lover turn out to be just a vindictive lie. Suspicion also fall on the German government, as the relationship between the two countries is quite strained.

Months and years go by and there is still no trace of Leonardo’s painting, it seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth, and its place on the wall at the Louvre is taken by the portrait of Baldassarre Castiglione by Raffaello.

Then in 1913 the Florentine art patron and antique dealer Alfredo Geri receives a letter from a certain Vincenzo Leonard declaring that he has possession of the real Gioconda. Leonard states that he wants to repatriate the painting to the Italian State where he believes it belongs. He asks a price of 500,000 Lira ‘to cover the expenses’! Alfredo Geri organises a meeting with Vincenzo Leonard to which he also invites the director of the Uffizi Museum, Giovanni Poggi. The meeting takes place in a Florentine hotel which, due to the incident, has since been renamed Hotel Gioconda. Upon seeing the painting the two art experts immediately realise that it isn’t just another copy, but the original Monna Lisa. Using the excuse that they need to examine the painting in a bit more detail, they ask Vincenzo Leonard to come back later, but while he’s gone they alert the police, who come and arrest him.

But who was Vincenzo Leonard, and why did he steal the Monna Lisa? All will be revealed in Part 3 of … Tales of La Gioconda

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