She is enigmatic unto herself, although she is just a depiction of a person who once lived over 500 years ago. We know her by a nickname that immediately conjures her face in our minds with just two little words. We can sing her name in a familiar song. Whole books have been written about her mystery and the complicated, albeit implied, emotions hidden behind her smile. She is a masterpiece! People who have seen her in person often say, “she’s smaller than I thought she’d be.” And while we all know her name, have you ever thought to wonder why we ALL know it? In certain circles, she was famous for centuries--Napoleon even took her for his own! But it was her theft in 1911 that made her globally known to the average person. If it were not for the actions of an opportunistic museum worker, she may have been just like one of the millions of paintings relegated to museum walls, known only to those who entered those museums or studied art history. She is, of course, Mona Lisa.
Of course, credit is due to her creator, Leonardo DaVinci, for capturing something magical in what began as a commissioned portrait of a friend’s wife. The origins of the Mona Lisa and her identity have long been debated, but the consensus seems to have arrived at Lisa Gherardini, wife of a merchant, Francesco del Giocondo. The painting was never completed, however. It has also been long debated when and for how long DaVinci worked on the portrait. Most art historians agree it was started in 1503, but the last time it was worked on could have been as late as 1517. It was never delivered to the Giocondos, and according to some, was ultimately bequeathed to DaVinci’s apprentice, Salai. The painting was sold to Francis I of France around 1530, after which he displayed it in Fontainebleau, his favorite chateau. Francis I is who coined her French nickname as La Joconde, or the jovial one, which was an homage to her smile and also a play on her surname. Napoleon Bonaparte did indeed have the Mona Lisa moved to his private quarters in 1800, but she was returned in 1804 and placed in the Louvre.
Although the artwork was one among many other portraits in the gallery, she had her fans. She drew many artists’ attention as a muse, inspiring close copies that would become part of the Mona Lisa lore when discovered in later years. In March of 1911, one such copy had surfaced, and the art world was entrenched in arguing about which one was the original and which one was the forgery. The copy was called the Prado or Madrid Mona Lisa and was scrutinized closely as a possible copy painted by DaVinci himself. This course of events and discussion may have been part of what caused Vincenzo Peruggia to begin planning how to go about stealing the Mona Lisa for his own purposes.
Vincenzo Peruggia was born in Italy, but had moved to Paris, France around 1908. He had worked at the Louvre in 1910 -1911 and claimed to have made the protective glass coverings that were being installed over some of the more popular works of art. As an Italian, he apparently felt something of a kinship with the Mona Lisa and found it downright shameful that, as he believed, she had been stolen by Napoleon. Since he had worked at the museum and was himself an artist, common conjecture suggests that he may have been enamored by the image in the painting, as so many men before him. Or maybe he thought he’d make a lot of money by selling a masterpiece.
There are many versions of what happened when the heist occurred, but the consensus among most reports goes like this (more or less):
Peruggia decided to steal the Mona Lisa and since he knew how to remove the protective covering and the frame without damaging the artwork, he figured he could just carry it out. The painting is on a wooden panel and measures 30 x 21 inches.
On Sunday, 20 August 1911, Peruggia went to the Louvre, which was to be closed the next day for maintenance. When closing time came, he hid in a closet near a set of stairs he planned to use to exit. He wore one of the worker smocks of the museum staff.
It is believed that he waited until just after the museum opened the next morning to take down the painting and disassemble the case and frame, which he left in the stairwell. He wrapped the painting in some white cloth; perhaps a spare smock. However, he found himself locked on the bottom floor of the stairwell. He tried to remove the doorknob to get out, but the door stayed firm. He sat by this door until a worker came. This worker saw him with the white smock they all wore (not realizing he had the Mona Lisa, of course). Peruggia claimed to have no idea what happened to the doorknob, and the other worker, a plumber, managed to get it open.
Peruggia tucked the wrapped up painting under his arm, and left. No alarms were raised. He stashed the painting in his apartment and went about his life as if nothing had happened.
Another worker noticed the painting missing on the morning of 21 August 1911, but since the museum was going through the process of photographing all of the artwork, that worker assumed it was in the photographer’s shop. When someone found the case and frame in the stairwell the following morning, the search began, and they realized that the Mona Lisa was missing. The alert was raised to the police. Papers picked up the story very quickly and ran with it, turning it into a full-fledged global scandal.
Almost immediately, police suspected someone who worked at the museum because of the care with which the frame and case were handled. They interviewed all of the current and former museum employees, including Peruggia twice, but they never thought it was him. They suspected other artists; even Pablo Picasso was interviewed. They questioned one particular fan who wrote letters to the Mona Lisa. The police littered Paris with over 6,500 posters of a photograph of the painting. Packages, luggage, and outbound shipments were searched, but the trail went cold, and no one would even guess that unassuming Peruggia had it. Theories went wild, of course, claiming she was in locations around the world: Russia, Tokyo, New York.
Two years later, however, apparently Peruggia was ready to get rid of her. Alfredo Geri, an Italian antiques dealer, had posted an ad in several Italian newspapers in the Autumn of 1913, seeking old art and offering good prices. On 29 November 1913, Geri received a letter offering him the Mona Lisa. It was signed “Leonardo Vincenzo.” Geri was curious but cautious. He contacted the director of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Giovanni Poggi, to serve as an expert to identify the portrait’s legitimacy. The men met Peruggia in a Florence hotel room on 20 December 1913, and the Mona Lisa was produced from the false bottom of a trunk. Poggi immediately notified authorities, and the case was solved.
Peruggia was tried and received a lenient sentence of just 13 months, of which he served seven. Although he rather expected to be treated as a hero, that was a fleeting sentiment as everyone could agree that the rightful owner of the La Joconde was France, and after taking a brief tour around Italian museums, including the Uffizi, she returned to the Louvre on 4 January 1914, where she can be viewed today. But for a brief moment in time, everyone was looking for her everywhere thanks to Vincenzo.
Many developed countries, including the United States, follow the jus soli system to determine citizenship. Jus soli is a Latin phrase which means “law of the soil,” commonly referred to as birthright citizenship. This simply means that a person born in the United States, subject to its jurisdiction, automatically gains United States citizenship at birth. Likewise,a person born in a United States territory (i.e., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, etc.) to at least one parent who is a citizen of the United States and has been continuously present in the United States or one of its outlying territories for at least one year prior to the birth gains United States citizenship automatically when born.
For most European countries citizenship is not automatically granted at birth. Instead, they follow the system of jus sanguinis, which is a Latin term meaning “right of blood.” Following the system of jus sanguinis, when born, a person inherits the citizenship of their parents (citizenship by descent). This system has the potential for a single person to attain citizenship in up to three countries at birth. This would require a scenario where both parents were citizens of two different countries who followed the system of jus sanguinis and that the birth took place in a country which follows the systems of jus soli. There are many nuances and exceptions to these systems and laws of individual countries but, in general, the systems grant citizenship in this manner. Exceptions may include treaties between nations, children born to diplomats and special laws regarding births on foreign vessels, among others.
As the laws of the United States do not require that a person choose one nationality over another, it is possible for citizens of the United States to become a naturalized citizen of another country without relinquishing their status as a citizen in the United States. Becoming a citizen of two separate nations is commonly referred to as having dual citizenship or becoming a dual national, and requires both allegiance and obligations to both countries, including their laws, for the dual national.
Determining if you qualify for citizenship by descent (jus sanguinis) for a European country is not as simplistic as it would first seem. As Italy is a country where descendents who are United States citizens commonly seek dual citizenship, we’ll use that country as an example. Simply having Italian ancestry is not enough to qualify for Italian citizenship. Though many United States citizens of Italian descent qualify for Italian citizenship by birth, one must prove to the Italian government their right to claim that citizenship was conferred to them by their Italian-born antecedent according to Italian law.
As Italy did not become a nation until 17 March 1861, there were no Italian citizens before that date. The initial criteria for a person seeking citizenship by descent in Italy requires that they descend directly from a person who can be documented as being alive on or after that date. Second, the descendant must also prove that their Italian-born ancestor in the most recent generation did not become a naturalized citizen of another country prior to the birth of their child from whom the applicant descends through. The reason being is that prior to 1992, dual citizenship did not exist, so if your ancestor became a naturalized citizen of the United States, they would have renounced their Italian citizenship during the naturalization process, and you will need to prove that the line of Italian citizenship was not broken prior to the birth their child from whom the applicant descends through..
An alternate path would be to prove that your Italian-born direct antecedent never became a naturalized citizen of another country. There are additional laws regarding dual citizenship in Italy, including non-qualification for those who descend from an individual who naturalized prior to 1 July 1912. Potential applicants should also be aware that if your Italian-born ancestor immigrated to the United States as a minor, you may not qualify if their father became naturalized, as the child would have automatically become a naturalized citizen with their father if they were still a minor at the time of naturalization. It should be noted that the age of majority was 21 in Italy until 1976. Those wishing to apply through a maternal line should also be aware that laws governing Italian citizenship provide that though women could be citizens themselves, children born to them before 1 January 1948, the date that Italy became a Republic, would not inherit citizenship from their mother. However, laws exist which may allow one to circumvent this particular obstacle.
Dual citizenship requires substantial documented proof for every single vital event for each generation from the applicant to the Italian-born ancestor, as well as the understanding and navigation of many nuanced laws, in both the mother country and that of that of the country of immigration. However, for many, the benefits of dual citizenship make it worth the effort. Arrivederci e buona fortuna!
Evan Andrews, History.com (https://www.history.com : accessed 4 September 2022), “The Heist that Made Mona Lisa Famous.”
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“Da Vinci Masterpiece Gone – ‘La Joconde’ May Be Stolen” The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California), 23 August 1911, digital images, Newspapers.com (https://newspapers.com : accessed 7 September 2022), citing print edition, p. 2, cols. 2-3.
Gary Lee Kraut, France Revisited (https://francerevisited.com : accessed 6 September 2022), digital image, “Vincenzo Peruggia, the Man Who Stole the Mona Lisa.”
Public Broadcasting Service (https://www.pbs.org : accessed 5 September 2022), “Treasures of the World/Mona Lisa Timeline.”
“The New Mystery of Mona Lisa” The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee), 19 March 1911, digital images, Newspapers.com (https://newspapers.com : accessed 7 September 2022), citing print edition, p. 36, cols. 2-5.
Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Us-passport.jpg : accessed 8 September 2022), digital image digital image of photograph United States passport front cover, 2022, “File:Us-passport.jpg;” image uploaded by user JunyuXu.
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Aspan Law Offices (https://www.apsanlaw.com/ : accessed 8 September 2022), “Birthright Citizenship - Jus soli & Jus Sanguinis.”
U.S. Department of State, Travel.State.Gov (https://travel.state.gov/ : accessed 8 September 2022), “Dual Nationality.”