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Five incidents in which the Mona Lisa was damaged or stolen

Last week, a visitor at the Louvre smeared the glass behind which the Mona Lisa of Leonardo da Vinci is on display, with cake. However, this was not the first time that someone tried to damage or even steal the famous painting. Such incidents occurred four more times in history.Text: Patrick StofferThe visitor was disguised as an old woman in a wheelchair and initially tried to break the protective glass behind which the Da Vinci hangs. Ultimately, the man was overpowered by security. The painting from 1503 is of inestimable value and therefore a prey for vandals and thieves. The painting had been the victim of vandalism and theft four times before.

1911: Mona Lisa was stolen

One of the reasons why the Mona Lisa is internationally famous is thanks to the theft in 1911 by the Italian Vincenco Peruggia. That year, Peruggia and two accomplices hid themselves in a closet in the Louvre, emerged when the museum was closed, took the painting and boarded a train that transported them from Paris. As more and more attention came from both the French press and beyond, he kept the work and even hid it under the floor in his Parisian apartment. About two years after the theft, Peruggia attempted to sell the Mona Lisa to an art dealer in Florence, with the aim of returning the painting to its roots in Italy. The dealer called the director of Uffizi Galleries, who recognized the work and called the police. Peruggia served six months behind bars and the work was returned to the Louvre.

1956: Acid and stone were thrown at the artwork

In 1956, not once, but twice, the Mona Lisa was attempted to be destroyed. First, a vandal tried to damage the canvas by throwing acid at it, damaging the lower part. Later that year the Bolivian pitched Hugo Unjaga Villegas a stone to the Mona Lisa. The reason: 'I had a stone in my hand and suddenly had the idea to throw it at the painting.' Fortunately, protective glass installed after the first incident prevented the attack, causing only minor damage to the painting. This turned out to be easy to repair.

1972: Damage due to red paint

The Mona Lisa rarely leaves the Louvre, which explains why more than a million people saw the artwork when it moved once to the National Museum in Tokyo. One of those visitors was 25-year-old Tomoko Yonezu, a Japanese woman who tried to spray the artwork with red paint on the first day. Days before the opening, a discussion arose about the exhibition, as it was under the guise of crowd control no people who were in need of assistance were admitted. Yonezu took matters into his own hands and had some success. About 20 to 30 drops of paint reached the canvas, but the canvas was spared. When the woman in question was in court, human rights organizations stood outside the courthouse because they saw sexism in the legal proceedings. Yonezu ultimately got away with a fine, but still achieved something with her action. The museum organized a day where only those in need had access to the exhibition.

2009: Pelted with a tea cup

A Russian woman decided to visit the Louvre in 2009 and threw an empty tea cup at the painting. Once again, the glass protected the Mona Lisa from damage. The woman's motivation was that she had been denied French citizenship. Critics believed that the painting should be better protected from such attacks and moved to its own gallery, separate from other works. Ultimately, measures were taken by deploying queues to control the crowds around the painting. The glass was also upgraded in 2019.

2022: Cake incident at Mona Lisa

So last week was the fifth incident. A man dressed as an old woman drove up to the painting in his wheelchair and tried to break the glass. When that didn't work, he spread a cake over the glass. After he was overpowered he shouted something about protecting the earth.

Also read: 'The five most expensive Dutch paintings ever sold'.