Some works of art such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Michelangelo’s Pieta, Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, are considered national treasures. Since these artworks have high monetary values, they can fetch astronomical amounts in the black market, making them the favorite targets of many thieves of art. Sometimes, art theft is not motivated by financial gains, but personal or political agendas.

On August 21, 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Musée du Louvre in Paris. Although French poet Guillaume Apollinaire and world famous Spanish painter Pablo Picasso were suspected to be involved, the real culprit turned out to be Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian patriot who was employed by the Louvre. It was a simple procedure. On that day, he went about his usual task, and hid in a broom cabinet. He waited until the museum closed before he stole the Mona Lisa, concealing the painting under his coat, and walking out without being detected. Apparently, Peruggia felt strongly that the Mona Lisa should be exhibited in an Italian museum since da Vinci was Italian. In 1913, Peruggia was arrested when he tried to sell the painting to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. After a tour in Italy, the Mona Lisa was sent back to the Louvre. Celebrated as an Italian hero, Peruggia was only given a short jail sentence. On August 2, 2009, a Russian woman was arrested for throwing a teacup at the Mona Lisa, but it only caused a few scratches on the bulletproof encasement that protects the painting now.

One of the most wide-scale art plunder of recent memory is the Nazi plunder. During World War II, the Nazis developed a system of looting where they would target Old Master portraits and landscapes, especially favoring those with Germanic origin. The top-rated artworks were supposed to be exhibited in Hitler’s future unrealized Führermuseum and a good number also went to top officials like Hermann Göring. Degenerate artworks would be traded to finance the Nazi cause. Most of the Nazi looting occurred in the Soviet Union and Poland where more than 1.6 million art objects were reportedly lost. After the defeat of the Nazis, the Allies formed the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives organization to recover the looted artworks and they succeeded in locating about 700,000 artworks, but the majority is yet to be found.

One of the most famous and biggest art heists happened at the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts on March 18, 1990. Disguising themselves as Boston police officers, the thieves made off with 13 paintings (including five Degas drawings, three Rembrandts, a Vermeer, and a Manet), presently valued at approximately $300 million. After they have gained entry into the museum, the thieves tied up the guards in the basement, and went about their business, smashing up the alarm when it went off. Less than 90 minutes later, the thieves escaped. Up to this day, none of the thieves have been arrested and none of the stolen pieces have been recovered.

Further Information

These works of art are some of the most influential in history. These paintings continue to inspire and be imitated. Often these works are printed at home for use in school assignments. Be sure and stock up on ink and toner cartridges.

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