Leonardo da Vinci spent years working on the Mona Lisa (1503/1507), his most celebrated painting and arguably the most famous painting in the world. He carried the canvas with him as a sort of calling card, traveling all over Italy to show his technique to patrons, other painters and students. Measuring 77 x 53 cm/ 30 x 21 inches, the masterpiece is surprisingly compact.
Da Vinci brought the Mona Lisa with him to France, where he spent his final years. Thereafter, the painting resided at Chateau Fontainebleau with King Francis I, the Palace of Versailles with King Louis XIV and the Tuileries Palace with Napoleon Bonaparte before settling in at the Louvre Museum (and former palace) of Paris in 1804.
On an August morning in 1911, the French police were notified by the museum that the painting was missing. It took over two years to find the work, and only after an attempt was made to sell it to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.
Vincenzo Peruggia, a former employee of the Louvre, claimed he stole the painting out of patriotism; that he was 'rescuing her from France.' After a sensational trial that took place in Italy, he received a prison sentence of one year but served only a few months. The Mona Lisa returned to Paris, after an extensive tour of exhibitions throughout Italy.
Twenty seven months outside the palace: away from tours and guards and fingers pointing. I imagine Peruggia puttering about his French flat, enjoying an aperitif, trimming his mustache, reading the paper, under the piercing and enigmatic gaze of the mysterious beauty.