Vanished Smile
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Amazon Best of the Month, April 2009: In 1911, Leonardo's da Vinci's Mona Lisa was stolen off its hooks from the Louvre, remaining missing for over two years. Who took the most famous painting in the world? Was it Pablo Picasso, the upstart Spaniard--and modern counterpoint to the Italian master--in a fit of nationalistic pride, or the avant-garde poet Guillaume Apollinaire as an act of artistic revolution? R.A. Scotti's Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa investigates this largely forgotten caper, and along the way we're treated to a tour of turn-of-the-century Paris, the birth of modern forensics, and a biography of the enigmatic painting itself. To this day the mysterious theft of the painting the French call La Joconde remains unsolved--only Mona Lisa knows, and she's not talking. --Jon Foro


R.A. Scotti on Vanished Smile
Mona Lisa is the most famous face in the world, yet few among the thousands who flock to the Louvre to see her every day know that she was ever stolen. Who pinched Mona Lisa--and why?

The most surprising facts in the case:

1. 98 years ago, Mona Lisa vanished from the wall of the Louvre Museum.

2. No one noticed for more that 24 hours.

3. Pablo Picasso was a prime suspect in the theft.

4. Her mysterious disappearance made Mona Lisa the most famous wanted woman in the world.

4. Mona Lisa remained missing for more than 2 years and was presumed lost forever.

5. A letter signed “Leonardo” led police to the lost painting.

6. Almost 100 years later, the brazen crime remains unsolved. --R.A. Scotti

(Photo ? Doug Steel)



On August 21, 1911, the unfathomable happened–Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa vanished from the Louvre. More than twenty-four hours passed before museum officials realized she was gone. The prime suspects were as shocking as the crime: Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire, young provocateurs of a new art. As French detectives using the latest methods of criminology, including fingerprinting, tried to trace the thieves, a burgeoning international media hyped news of the heist.

No story captured the imagination of the world quite like this one. Thousands flocked to the Louvre to see the empty space where the painting had hung. They mourned as if Mona Lisa were a lost loved one, left flowers and notes, and set new attendance records. For more than two years, Mona Lisa’s absence haunted the art world, provoking the question: Was she lost forever? A century later, questions still linger.

Part love story, part mystery, Vanished Smile reopens the case of the most audacious and perplexing art theft ever committed. R. A. Scotti’s riveting, ingeniously realized account is itself a masterly portrait of a world in transition. Combining her skills as a historian and a novelist, Scotti turns the tantalizing clues into a story of the painting’s transformation into the most familiar and lasting icon of all time.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews:

  • A fascinating discovery!
    In July of 2007, we were on a local sightseeing bus in Florence, Italy when the recording directed our attention to the Hotel la Giaconda; nothing that it was there that the Mona Lisa was found in a closet. Since I'm a completely inadequate art historian, I didn't have a clue about the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa or any of the details surrounding it. But I now understand a little more, although we may never truly know the complete story.

    R.A. Scotti's Vanished Smile brings an excellent combination of insight, research and perspective to this story that should reward at lest the casual art fan (I'll leave it to the serious ones to decide for themselves). From the belated discovery of her disappearance to the recovery of Leonardo's masterpiece two years later, Scotti weaves a fascinating narrative that includes famous names from both the world of criminology and art (did you know that Pablo Picasso was originally one of the suspects?).

    Perhaps what most enlightened me was a fascinating chapter that gives the reader a better understanding as to the significance of this particular painting, from her original migration from Italy to France, her sentimental appeal to art fans the world over, to the factors that make her such a significant work of art.

    Yes, la Giaconda was recovered, and the self-confessed thief arrested and convicted, however the case in its entirety has not been fully explained. Scotti attempts to do that with some plausible reconstruction of rumor, fueled by the unsubstantiated claims of a mysterious raconteur and thief. If a century-old true crime tale intrigues you, you should find this particular book fulfilling.
    ...more info
  • Who Stole The Mona Lisa From the Louvre?
    This reader/reviewer did not even know that in 1911 the Mona Lisa (La Joconde) had been stolen from the Louvre, a world-famous museum named for the Caves of the Wolves below the 49-acre structure with a centuries old history. Since I've enjoyed studying the most famous smile in the world on several occasions in the last 30 years, obviously the most famous painting in history was found--in 1914 to be exact. This is a page-turner of a true mystery. It's almost unbelievable that thieves could take the painting, which is painted on hard wood, not canvas that could be rolled up and easily hidden, out of the museum in broad daylight without anyone seeing anything. But at that period in history, the Louvre Museum didn't even know the whereabouts of 800 master keys. None of the art works were securely fastened to the wall. A contract photographer could simply walk-up to a masterpiece, gently take it off the wall and remove it to be photographed. The photographers didn't have to have special permission or even tell anybody where they were going, what they were doing or how long the artwork would be absent. There was no system for checking out the various art works. Security was lax to say the least.
    The theft of Leonardo Da Vinci's masterpiece turned the smiling portrait into the most famous painting in the world. It introduced the Mona Lisa to the general public who had never heard of, much less seen the mysterious woman with the haunting smile. The public openly grieved for the loss of their smiling Lisa.
    Among the chief suspects of the robbery were Pablo Picasso and his friend poet/art critic (he coined the word "surrealism") Guillaume Apollinaire who were suspected because of their publicly stated dislike of art museums. The spotlight was focused on them when they decided against dumping some stolen statues from the Louvre they had in their possession into the river and instead turned them into one of the Paris newspapers. If they'd carried out their plan of drowning the primitive statues, they would not have been arrested. There is surprising material about Picasso contained in the book I've never read anywhere else.
    This tome is filled with fascinating trivia such as the fact the Mona Lisa hung in Napoleon's Bed Chamber until he was exiled to Elba. There is a wonderful portrait of the Paris "Camelot of Art" that so colored the early part of the 20th Century including lots of insights into the characters who became the surrealist knights and court figures of that Montepass¨¦ and Montmartre Round Table. The development of the newspaper is another interesting facet of Paris at the time of this crime.
    As a reviewer I don't want to give away the heart of this excellent non-fiction book, but a reader doesn't have to be an art historian to be captivated by this mystery. This is a very enlightening and enjoyable read and it will be difficult to put down before all 213 pages of story have been finished. The whole affair is so, so surreal, but amazingly, it really did happen. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction!
    ...more info
  • Stylistically over-reaching, lay novelistic detail on too thickly over historical fact like fat foie-gras on thin wafer
    but whatever it takes to study art history.

    And what finer history could we read?

    Okay, so the cover tries to cash in on the whole The Da Vinci Code craze, with all of its formats and merchandising. Hopefully this cover grabs more readers to explore the verfiable facts of the history of this, the greatest portrait of all time (at least until the portraits in Picasso's Guernica, 1937 Poster Print or Le Vieux Guitariste / The Old Guitarist, Framed Art Print by Pablo Picasso). Fascinating to read the suspicions against Apollonaire and Picasso explored in this recounting.

    Unfortunately I find here the stylistic flourishes a bit too breathless, a bit to elaborate, rather thickly laid on. I find they detract from the historical chronology like a third rate detective novel, not first class like the taciturn Maigret Se Trompe (French Edition).

    Perhaps I am simply not accustomed to this style, but an old museum guard's belch caused by a specific lunch seems rather an instance of authorial invention and intervention not suited for such a work as this.

    Maybe this is intended to be a beach book, a bus read, rather than a serious text. Its style seems more popular than academic, and this subject demands a serious and academic treatment. That is the book I would care to read.

    Fortunately this book provides interesting footnotes and references to other works, including quickly Mona Lisa : Inside the Painting and a five page bibliography in a font smaller than the main text. Please note the font of the main text; it is slightly larger than normally discovered, emphasizing this book is intended either for the brighter middle school library of for the older, popular, slightly unstudied yet pretentious reader.

    I would love to read this account, but without all of the author's artistic and literary flourishes. In the words of Jack Webb: "Just the facts, ma'am." She gets all the facts which are available, but piles on the picturesque details of her own invention, adding color and scent and sound which to me simply distract from the thread. Yes, she is a published author, including Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal: Building St. Peter's. I am certain the book I require lies hidden within this large bibliography she kindly provides; this is the detective work wihch this book calls me to. Most others may find it in the work of Scotti herself.

    Beam me up....more info
  • Suspenseful Whodunit
    Most nonfiction art books are not known for being "page turners", but R.A Scotti's Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa is an exception to the rule. The author manages to weave an amazing tale from the account of the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911.

    Among other things, I was surprised to learn how long it took for anyone to notice that the painting was gone, and even more surprising was that it was gone for over 2 years before it was returned. Pre-WWI nationalism, the implication of Pablo Picasso, and the fact that to this day there exists no known motive for the theft kept my interest in this book from beginning to end.

    I noticed that some of the other reviewers wanted more detail and a more straightforward writing of the story. I enjoyed the pacing and the occasional digression from the main story line, since all of the information added to the rich texture of the tale being told. After all, this is not an art history textbook; it's a fun read.
    ...more info
  • A fascinating discovery!
    In July of 2007, we were on a local sightseeing bus in Florence, Italy when the recording directed our attention to the Hotel la Giaconda; nothing that it was there that the Mona Lisa was found in a closet. Since I'm a completely inadequate art historian, I didn't have a clue about the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa or any of the details surrounding it. But I now understand a little more, although we may never truly know the complete story.

    R.A. Scotti's Vanished Smile brings an excellent combination of insight, research and perspective to this story that should reward at lest the casual art fan (I'll leave it to the serious ones to decide for themselves). From the belated discovery of her disappearance to the recovery of Leonardo's masterpiece two years later, Scotti weaves a fascinating narrative that includes famous names from both the world of criminology and art (did you know that Pablo Picasso was originally one of the suspects?).

    Perhaps what most enlightened me was a fascinating chapter that gives the reader a better understanding as to the significance of this particular painting, from her original migration from Italy to France, her sentimental appeal to art fans the world over, to the factors that make her such a significant work of art.

    Yes, la Giaconda was recovered, and the self-confessed thief arrested and convicted, however the case in its entirety has not been fully explained. Scotti attempts to do that with some plausible reconstruction of rumor, fueled by the unsubstantiated claims of a mysterious raconteur and thief. If a century-old true crime tale intrigues you, you should find this particular book fulfilling.
    ...more info
  • One Of The First "Crimes Of The Century"
    The theft and recovery of the Mona Lisa between 1911 and 1914 was one of the most celebrated crime cases of the Belle Epoque. How could the most famous picture in the world suddenly vanish without anyone noticing for hours or even days? It happened in the Louvre Museum in August, 1911. The famous museum was notorious for its slack security, and the extremely hot weather of that summer just increased the general air of somnolence. Then the scramble to discover the identity of the thief and his confederates involved much of Paris's police force, including the famed Alphonse Bertillon, and professional and amateur sleuths on several continents. Dragged into the middle of the mess was the artist who was to embody twentieth century art as much as Leonardo da Vinci did that of the Renaissance: Pablo Picasso. And in the deep background were the real gang of thieves, including a consummate conman and a hapless Italian nationalist.

    R.A. Scotti has produced a pleasant recapitulation of the story of the theft and recovery of the Mona Lisa which does a good job of recapturing the temperament of Europe in those last years before World War I erupted and changed everything. In between chronicling the crime and its denouement, she also provides some interesting speculations on the painting itself which help us better understand the fascination it holds for so many of us. ...more info
  • All The Elements of a Great Crime Novel
    The subject of this nice little history is the brazen theft of the most recognizable painting in the world--the Mona Lisa--in 1911. R.A. Scotti's prose is as terse and tension filled as any fine crime novel. This is history at its best, presented with verve and a touch of humor. It draws the reader in like few histories I have read in the recent past. Highly recommended....more info
  • Intriguing!
    The Paris Louvre art gallery is the most visited museum in the world; previously it had been a fortress in the Middle Ages, a palace in the monarchy, the people's museum in the Revolution, a studio for squatters, and Napoleon's showcase. Its broad halls extended more than 1,200 feet, and cover about 15 acres.

    On 8/21/1911, the Mona Lisa vanished from the Louvre. Leonardo had painted the Mona Lisa intermittently in the early 1500s over a four-year period, then carried her with him until he died. More than 24 hours passed before officials realized it was gone. The prime suspects were as shocking as the crime - Pablo Picasso and his avant garde poet friend - they had urged burning the Louvre to free artists' imagination from the past, and had two sculptures stolen from the Louvre. (Later turned out they had been purchased.)

    Upon notification of the missing treasure, police acted swiftly, closing the museum and sealing the borders of France. Security had been lax - there were about 100 passkeys among the building's workers, as many as 800 workers could have been working or wandering in the museum on the day of the theft (even though it was closed), and there was nothing firmly securing the paintings to the walls (fear of fire). (The museum director was quickly fired.) Removal of the painting would have been somewhat hindered, however, by the fact that the painting, with its frame, weighed 87 lbs.

    Rich American art collectors at the time were massively buying art, and also came under suspicion. Regardless, a record number of visitors returned when it re-opened a week later to view the empty pegs once holding the painting.

    Two-plus years after the theft, an Italian art dealer received a letter claiming to have the Mona Lisa - signed by Leonardo and postmarked from Paris. The art dealer asked that the painting be brought to him in Florence so he could study it, and after doing so with an expert the dealer agreed to pay $2.4 million (today's equivalent) after further inspection. Instead, police were notified, and the thief was arrested.

    Turns out the painting had been kept only two miles from the Louvre, the thief had been a glazier there for two years, and had helped seal the Mona Lisa into its new glass case. His declared motive was to avenge art thefts by Napoleon, though evidence in his apartment suggested money was the real motivator. He eventually was sentenced to 7 months and 9 days.

    Years later another story sprang up - that the thief had been recruited by Americans who had six good Mona Lisa copies and wanted a scenario in which they could sell each as authentic. No evidence, however, turned up to support that claim....more info
  • Hang in there
    The first few chapters are boring as hell and make you want to stop reading. Hang in there though. It gets really good with lots of details and info you never knew....more info
  • Hang in there
    The first few chapters are boring as hell and make you want to stop reading. Hang in there though. It gets really good with lots of details and info you never knew....more info
  • Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa
    ISBN 0307265803 - Old and unsolved mysteries have a strange attraction for me, as a reader, and I believe that, while reading Vanished Smile, I've figured out the reason: there's a feeling that, if you read enough, you might be able to solve it from your chair. This makes no sense for two reasons, of course. One, people who solve mysteries for a living haven't been able to solve it. Two, and this is going to surprise some folks, the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre was solved 95 or so years ago.

    In 1911, on a hot August day in Paris, da Vinci's Mona Lisa disappeared. She was there on Sunday and gone by Tuesday and, thanks to some astonishingly lax security, no one could be certain exactly when she'd gone missing. Plenty of people had the opportunity to walk away with her. Several, namely Pablo Picasso and a group of his friends, had even said some things publicly that might be taken as motive. The growing market for artwork in America was scrutinized. All the theories produced no results. As time went by, desperation turned to despair as the world gave up hope that the painting would be returned. Two years later, just as suddenly as she'd gone, Mona Lisa reappeared. Even with the mystery solved, conspiracy theories couldn't be stopped - even today!

    R. A. Scotti's tale covers all the known bases, including most of the obvious conspiracy theories, and brings nothing new to the story, but for those who don't know it yet, this is a very readable telling. Skillfully filling in the reader on the relevant back stories of several of the primary characters, Scotti does a fantastic job of fleshing things out in an entertaining style. There's a strong focus on suspects and too little on the actual perpetrator and on the officials who investigated, which is the only negative, in my opinion.

    If you already know this story, Vanished Smile probably isn't going to be your thing. While it's well-written, there's just nothing new to add to the telling, other than the results of several recent high-tech studies done of the painting. The bibliography in the back is a helpful list of recommended reading for anyone who cares to research more.

    - AnnaLovesBooks...more info
  • Tepid Tale
    I really tried to enjoy this book.

    Yes, this is a true story. And that is the only positive thing I can come up with. Boring, boring, boring. Too many facts, too many details and an author who is truly in love with the written word. But not with the gift of storytelling.

    Give me a great story and skip the extensive description of a character's moustache. I don't care. I want to be swept away in an exciting, informative and engrossing tale - especially when it is true. But this is not one of them.

    Perhaps it will turn out better when it is put on film (how ironic), because I have no doubt that someone out there has the rights. Too bad. For once I believe that the movie will be better than the book.

    ...more info
  • Interesting topic, good ideas, ok writing, ineffective storytelling
    In a very concise fashion, the author retells the story of the 1911 theft and 1913 return of the world's most famous painting. As far as I could tell, there is no new material here, so this is just a stylish attempt at a new telling of the story with an attractively designed bookjacket. The results are mixed. Obviously, the reader is familiar with the fascination of the topic, and the author does a fair job of capitalizing on this. Also, the author does a good job of showing how many other contexts the Mona Lisa illuminates, from early developments in forensic science to modernist art, the growth of "art market" and a black market for art forgeries, and international relations on the eve of World War I. There are some interesting anecdotes included, such as that of people who wrote to the painting as if Mona Lisa were a real person. The writing is simple and unlikely to keep anyone from finishing the book.

    As an example of the historian's craft, however, the book fails on basic levels. It's not clear *why* the author chose to tell the elements of the story in the way that she did, and the chapters are very poorly connected (for example, a basic discussion of the creation and interpretation of the work appears toward the end of the book, without any connection to the remaining material--as if an editor complained that the reader doesn't learn enough about the painting itself in the book, so the author pasted in some information. Why in this place and why this particular information is unclear). Off and on, the author realizes that she forgot to include some information in the place it belongs and simply inserts at that point, rather than including it in earlier material. Characters are occasionally introduced without explanation and we have no idea who they are. The overall impression is one of a sloppily conceived storytelling, so that the poignant end of the story (the "imprisonment" of the painting) is frankly anticlimactic. And the apparently random placement of chapters distracts from what one suspects was the author's central point: the disturbing development of an aura around the painting that ended up being more important to almost everyone involved in this story than the object itself.

    Finally, the advanced readers' copy I had was ridden with errors of attribution--such as failure to put primary sources in quotes or cite them--to an extent that would cause the work to be condemned if a professional historian were writing it. It's also not clear why the book has both footnotes and endnotes. One hopes the publisher has corrected at least this final problem in the published edition of the work....more info
  • This is what makes history 'fun"!
    The story of the theft of Mona Lisa goes well beyond a "point A to point B heist". What is well crafted is the entire story of Mona Lisa and the surrounding mystery of who the woman was, and how she (along with other works) found their way to the French. This is the type of book that makes history come alive and helps paint a picture (pun intended) of the circumstances, political environment, and the people that make a story like this fascinating. Highly recommended!...more info