The Mona Lisa, the theft that created a legend 1911
On August 21, 1911, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, one of the most famous paintings in the world, was stolen right off the wall of the Louvre in Paris, France. It was such an inconceivable crime, that the Mona Lisa wasn't even noticed missing until the following day. On Tuesday, August 22, 1911, Louis Béroud, a painter walked into the Louvre and went to the Salon Carré where the Mona Lisa had been on display for five years. But on the wall where the Mona Lisa used to hang, sat only four iron pegs.
Béroud contacted the section head of the guards, who thought the painting was being photographed for marketing purposes. A few hours later, Béroud checked back with the section head of the museum, and it was confirmed that the Mona Lisa was not with the photographers. The Louvre was closed for an entire week to aid in investigation of the theft.
Unfortunately, there wasn't much evidence to go on. The most important discovery was found on the first day of the investigation. About an hour after the 60 investigators began searching the Louvre, they found the controversial plate of glass and Mona Lisa's frame lying in a staircase. The frame had not been damaged. Investigators and others speculated that the thief grabbed the painting off the wall, entered the stairwell, removed the painting from its frame, then somehow left the museum unnoticed. But when did all this take place?
- Investigators began to interview guards and workers to determine when the Mona Lisa went missing. One worker remembered having seen the painting around 7 o'clock on Monday morning (a day before it was discovered missing), but noticed it gone when he walked by the Salon Carré an hour later. He had assumed a museum official had moved it.
- Further research discovered that the usual guard in the Salon Carré was home (one of his children had the measles) and his replacement admitted leaving his post for a few minutes around 8 o'clock to smoke a cigarette. All of this evidence pointed to the theft occurring somewhere between 7:00 and 8:30 on Monday morning.
- But on Mondays, the Louvre was closed for cleaning. So, was this an inside job? Approximately 800 people had access to the Salon Carré on Monday morning. Wandering throughout the museum were museum officials, guards, workmen, cleaners and photographers. Interviews with these people brought out very little. One person thought they had seen a stranger hanging out, but he was unable to match the stranger's face with photos at the police station.
- The investigators brought in Alphonse Bertillon, a famous fingerprint expert. He found a thumbprint on the Mona Lisa's frame, but he was unable to match it with any in his files.
- There was a scaffold against one side of the museum that was there to aid the installation of an elevator. This could have given access to a would-be thief to the museum. Besides believing that the thief had to have at least some internal knowledge of the museum, there really wasn't much evidence. So, who dunnit?
Who would steal such a famous painting? Why did they do it?
"Could this crime have been prevented?"
The theft of the Mona Lisa was inconceivable, though it happened. An important lesson to learn from this crime is to conceive even the inconceivable crime. No security measures are taken for crimes we cannot conceive.
The Mona Lisa wasn't even noticed missing until the following day. Detection simply failed, guards and workers in the museum could not remember precisely when they had seen the Mona Lisa last. Even when the painting was first found missing, one assumed a museum official had moved it. During investigation afterwards, one person thought they had seen a stranger hanging out, but he did not report it at the time…Security Awareness could have prevented this crime.
In 1911, security technology was not what it is today, today art can be secured through very specific technology:
- Camera surveillance - 'museum search': A dedicated search on specified object in picture to help retrieving the relevant pictures.
- Detection: Small radar fencing in front of the picture, or VCA (Video Content Analysis) with detection on removing object.
- Asset tagging: To detect paintings or art when moved, removed or relocated.
- Integration: Magnetic contacts on staircase doors to indicate opening and start registration of cameras.
Could this crime have been prevented within reasonable limits of security investments? Yes, it could. Notable attributes of this crime are deterrence and special events.