Podcast Episode 298: The Theft of the Mona Lisa


In 1911, the Mona Lisa disappeared from the Louvre. After an extensive investigation it made a surprising reappearance that inspired headlines around the world. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the painting’s abduction, which has been called the greatest art theft of the 20th century.

We’ll also shake Seattle and puzzle over a fortunate lack of work.


A hard-boiled egg will stand when spun.

What’s the largest sofa one can squeeze around a corner?

Sources for our feature on Vincenzo Peruggia and the theft of the Mona Lisa:

Noah Charney, The Thefts of the Mona Lisa: On Stealing the World’s Most Famous Painting, 2011.

Martin Kemp and Giuseppe Pallanti, Mona Lisa: The People and the Painting, 2017.

Andrea Wallace, A History of Intellectual Property in 50 Objects, 2019.

Monica R. DiFonzo, “‘Think You Can Steal Our Caravaggio and Get Away With It? Think Again,’ An Analysis of the Italian Cultural Property Model,” George Washington International Law Review 44:3 (2012), 539-571.

Niels Christian Pausch and Christoph Kuhnt, “Analysis of Facial Characteristics of Female Beauty and Age of Mona Lisa Using a Pictorial Composition,” Journal of Advances in Medicine and Medical Research (2017), 1-7.

Donald Capps, “Leonardo’s Mona Lisa: Iconic Center of Male Melancholic Religion,” Pastoral Psychology 53:2 (2004), 107-137.

Joseph A. Harris, “Seeking Mona Lisa,” Smithsonian 30:2 (May 1999), 54-65.

Simon Kuper, “Who Stole the Mona Lisa?”, Slate, Aug. 7, 2011.

Terence McArdle, “How the 1911 Theft of the Mona Lisa Made It the World’s Most Famous Painting,” Washington Post (online), Oct. 20, 2019.

Jeff Nilsson, “100 Years Ago: The Mastermind Behind the Mona Lisa Heist,” Saturday Evening Post, Dec. 7, 2013.

Sheena McKenzie, “Mona Lisa: The Theft That Created a Legend,” CNN, Nov. 19, 2013.

“Unravelling the Mona Lisa Mystery,” Irish Independent, Aug. 5, 2017, 20.

John Timpane, “‘Mona Lisa’ Theft a Century Ago Created Modern Museums,” McClatchy-Tribune Business News, Sept. 7, 2011.

“Noah Charney: Art Theft, From the ‘Mona Lisa’ to Today,” Lima [Ohio] News, Aug. 23, 2011.

“Mona Lisa Thief Honored With a Play in Italian Hometown,” [Beirut] Daily Star, Aug. 22, 2011.

Mary Orms, “Steal My Painting!”, Toronto Star, Aug. 21, 2011, IN.1.

Jori Finkel, “Little-Known Facts About the 1911 Theft of Famed ‘Mona Lisa,'” [Charleston, W.V.] Sunday Gazette-Mail, Aug. 21, 2011, F.9.

Alastair Sooke, “A Century of Mona Lisa, Superstar,” Daily Telegraph, Aug. 20, 2011, 21.

“100 Years Ago, the Mona Lisa Vanishes,” Times of Oman, Aug. 20, 2011.

“Mona Lisa: Still Smiling 100 Years After Being Stolen,” Saudi Press Agency, Aug. 19, 2011.

“Mona Lisa Mystery,” Atherton [Queensland] Tablelander, Jan. 5, 2010, 13.

Greg Callaghan, “A Short History of … the Mona Lisa,” Weekend Australian Magazine, Oct. 10, 2009, 8.

Jonathan Lopez, “The Tale of an Unsophisticated Criminal Convicted of Single-Handedly Stealing the Mona Lisa,” Boston Globe, May 17, 2009, K.6.

Dwight Garner, “No Smiley Faces the Day the Lady Left the Louvre,” New York Times, April 30, 2009.

Nick Morrison, “The Art of Lifting a Masterpiece,” Darlington [U.K.] Northern Echo, Aug. 29, 2003, 12.

Helen Holmes, “Jodie Foster Will Direct a Movie About the Famous ‘Mona Lisa’ Heist,” Observer, Jan. 31, 2020.

Miriam Berger, “Theft of German Treasures Joins Ranks of Brazen Museum Heists — From the ‘Mona Lisa’ to a Solid Gold Toilet,” Washington Post (online), Nov. 28, 2019.

Terence McArdle, “How the Mona Lisa Became World-Famous,” [Nairobi] Daily Nation, Nov. 2, 2019.

“Italy Alarmed by Art ‘Sales,'” New York Times, Jan. 24, 1926.

“‘Mona Lisa’ Thief Gets a Year in Jail,” New York Times, June 6, 1914.

“Trial of Perugia Begun,” New York Times, June 5, 1914.

“Tried to Sell ‘Mona Lisa,'” New York Times, Dec. 27, 1913.

“Three More Held in ‘Mona Lisa’ Theft,” New York Times, Dec. 22, 1913.

“‘Mona Lisa’ Goes to Rome,” New York Times, Dec. 20, 1913.

“Thinks Perugia Had Aid,” New York Times, Dec. 17, 1913.

“Florentines in Riot Over ‘Mona Lisa,'” New York Times, Dec. 15, 1913.

“Perugia’s Eye to Business,” New York Times, Dec. 15, 1913.

“Perugia Loved Girl Like ‘Mona Lisa,'” New York Times, Dec. 15, 1913.

“Reading Mona Lisa’s Riddle,” New York Times, Dec. 15, 1913.

“Mona Lisa’ on View to Public To-Day,” New York Times, Dec. 14, 1913.

“Find ‘Mona Lisa,’ Arrest Robber,” New York Times, Dec. 13, 1913.

“Thief’s Story of His Crime,” New York Times, Dec. 13, 1913.

Listener mail:

Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Daniel Keith Ludwig” (accessed May 23, 2020).

Anderson Antunes, “Was Eike Batista’s Dream of Becoming the World’s Richest Man Just That, a Dream?”, Forbes, April 17, 2013.

Eric Pace, “Daniel Ludwig, Billionaire Businessman, Dies at 95,” New York Times, Aug. 29, 1992.

Brian Nicholson, “End of U.S. Owner’s Dream in the Amazon Jungle,” UPI, Jan. 23, 1982.

Wikipedia, “Jari Project” (accessed May 23, 2020).

Jim Brooke, “Billionaire’s Dream Founders in Amazon Jungle,” Washington Post, May 31, 1981.

“Seahawks’ KamQuake Rattled Seattle, but Beast Quake Still Rules,” NBC News, Jan. 9, 2015.

Wikipedia, “Beast Quake” (accessed May 23, 2020).

Mike Triplett, “Beast Quake Remembered: Epic Run by Marshawn Lynch Still Reverberates in Seattle,” ESPN, Dec. 24, 2019.

John Vidale, “One Year Ago, Seattle Seahawks 12th Man Earthquake,” Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, Dec. 31, 2011.

Greg Bishop, “NFL Odd Jobs: The Seismologists Who Measure ‘Fanquakes’ at Seahawks Games,” Sports Illustrated, Jan. 10, 2017.

Alan Boyle, “Seismologists Register ‘Fan Quakes’ From the Seattle Sounders’ Stadium Crowd,” GeekWire, Nov. 10, 2019.

Steve Malone, “SoundersFC Soccer Shake Experiment,” Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, Nov. 8, 2019.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Ian Hauffe.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, or via the RSS feed at https://futilitycloset.libsyn.com/rss.

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!