Mona Lisa Vandalism and Theft

“Mona Lisa” Vandalism and Theft – Is the “Mona Lisa” Ruined?

The Mona Lisa (c. 1503-1506) is one of the most famous paintings in the world and is considered an exemplary piece of Italian Renaissance art by the artist, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). The artwork’s fame has brought it much attention and captivated millions of viewers each year at the Louvre Museum in Paris, so much so that the work has been stolen and attracted its fair share of vandalism. In the following article, we will list the incidents that the masterpiece has endured in history. For example, why was the Mona Lisa vandalized? When was the Mona Lisa stolen? We will discuss these questions and more in the article below.



Some information about the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

Datec. 1503 – 1506
Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)
MediumOil on wooden panel
Dimensions (cm)77 x 53
Where It Is Currently Housed Louvre Museum, Paris

The Mona Lisa (La Gioconda in Italian and La Joconde in French) depicts Lisa Gherardini, who was the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a Florentine silk merchant. The female figure sits against a landscape in the distance as she stares at the viewer with her famously mysterious smile.

The work is special for another reason too, as the sfumato technique was used.

The word comes from the sfumare, an Italian word that means “to evaporate like smoke” and refers to the softening of the edges in a picture through fine shading. This produces a blurred effect, toning down the transition between colors. The painting entered the royal collections that have been exhibited at the Louvre Museum through King François I, who purchased the Mona Lisa from da Vinci in 1518 when he invited him to visit France.

Da Vinci's Mona Lisa Vandalism and Theft Mona Lisa (c. 1503-1506) by Leonardo da Vinci; Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons



Mona Lisa Vandalism and Theft in History

Throughout her history, the famed Mona Lisa has been subject to a total of five attacks, including successful and unsuccessful attempts. Read on as we list the incidents covering the Mona Lisa vandalism and theft.


Theft in 1911

Vandalism or Theft?Theft
Who Did It?Vincenzo Peruggia and two accomplices
Was the Painting Damaged?No

When was the Mona Lisa stolen? One evening, on the 21st of August 1911, Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian museum worker, and two other accomplices stole the Mona Lisa by hiding in a storage closet until the Louvre had closed that day.

It was reported that Peruggia had stolen the painting because he wanted to return it to Italy.

When Was the Mona Lisa Stolen Stealing the Mona Lisa on the cover of La Domenica del Corriere, no. 26, September 1911; La Domenica del Corriere, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

However, this may not have been the real reason, as the painting was hidden in a trunk for two years until he tried to sell it to Florentine art dealer Mario Fratelli rather than donating it to an Italian museum. Fratelli then reported Peruggia to officials.

It is believed that although the “Mona Lisa” was already famous before it was stolen on this occasion, the media coverage and extensive police investigation helped the work to gain substantial public interest and reach stardom.


Drenched in Acid in 1956

Vandalism or Theft?Vandalism
Who Did It?Name Unknown
Was the Painting Damaged?Yes

The first and most violent attack that the Mona Lisa endured was in the year of 1956. The work was on display at an exhibition in the south of France in Montauban when a vandal threw acid at the work. It had hit the lower section of the canvas. This incident prompted the museum to encase the painting in glass. The reason for the vandalism is unknown.

There is not as much information regarding this attack as the others, perhaps because it was the first.

Why Was the Mona Lisa Vandalized Mona Lisa (c. 1503-1506) by Leonardo da Vinci framed and on display at the Louvre Museum; jimmyweee, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Stoning the Mona Lisa in 1956

Vandalism or Theft?Vandalism
Who Did It?Hugo Unjaga Villegas
Was the Painting Damaged?Yes

In the same year as the acid incident, Ugo Ungaza Villegas, a homeless Bolivian man threw a rock at the masterpiece. He said that he had a stone in his pocket and had the sudden thought to throw it at the Mona Lisa. His reason may have been to go to jail so that he had somewhere to sleep. So, is the Mona Lisa ruined? Luckily not.

The rock damaged the painting only slightly when shattering the glass, knocking off a fleck of paint from her elbow. Experts easily repaired it, and the work was back on view after some days.

Is the Mona Lisa Ruined Mona Lisa (c. 1503-1506) by Leonardo da Vinci on display behind glass at the Louvre Museum; Bradley Weber, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Painted Red in Tokyo in 1974

Vandalism or Theft?Attempted vandalism
Who Did It?Tomoko Yonezu
Was the Painting Damaged?No

The Mona Lisa rarely ever left its home at the Louvre until she was allowed an outing to Tokyo in 1974. It was on the first day on view during this tour to the National Museum in Tokyo that a 25-year-old Japanese woman named, Tomoko Yonezu attempted to spray paint the work in red.

Her reason for the attempted vandalism was due to discussions by disability activists who had claimed that the National Museum was discriminating against the disabled by denying access to those who needed assistance due to crowd control.

Yonezu decided to act, with 20 to 30 droplets of red spray paint making their way onto the canvas, but luckily the Mona Lisa was not damaged. Although Yonezu was convicted of a misdemeanor and paid a fine of 3,000 yen, her efforts resulted in the National Museum setting aside a day for the disabled to exclusively view the painting.


Hit With a Teacup in 2009

Vandalism or Theft?Attempted vandalism
Who Did It?Name unknown
Was the Painting Damaged?No

One day in 2009, the Mona Lisa was struck with a teacup by a Russian woman. She had hidden the teacup inside her bag and took her anger out on the painting because she had been denied French citizenship. Thankfully, the only thing that was damaged was the teacup that smashed against the painting’s protective glass case.

The “Mona Lisa” has subsequently been moved to its own gallery space, in the room called Salle des États. The glass case was upgraded in 2019.


The Cake Incident in 2022

Vandalism or Theft?Attempted vandalism
Who Did It?36-Year-old male
Was the Painting Damaged?No

On the 29th of May 2022, a 36-year-old male attempted to vandalize the Mona Lisa by smearing cake on its protective glass. The man seemed to be wearing a wig in the videos that captured the event and approached the painting in a wheelchair. The Louvre Museum has procedures in place to allow people with disabilities to better see the work, allowing them to move in front of other viewers.

According to the statement from the Louvre, the man had stood near the painting and threw a piece of pastry that he had hidden at the work.

So, is the Mona Lisa ruined? Luckily not, as its display case protected it yet again. According to the Paris prosecutor’s office, the man was arrested and taken to a psychiatric hospital. Social media videos of the incident recorded him saying that he wanted to bring awareness to climate change, “There are people who are destroying the Earth. All artists, think about the Earth. That’s why I did this. Think of the planet.”


In conclusion, the “Mona Lisa” is a painting that seems to attract all kinds of attention. Even in 1963, the artist Salvador Dalí pondered that the work “has had a power, unique in all art history, to provoke the most violent and different kinds of aggressions.” The work was already regarded as a masterpiece, created by one of the most influential minds of the Renaissance, and the attacks have only bolstered its fame. If you have found this article on the “Mona Lisa” vandalism and theft interesting, we encourage you to further your exploration into the history of the “Mona Lisa”.




Frequently Asked Questions


Why Is the Mona Lisa Famous?

Although a very good painting, viewers may wonder what the fuss is about when faced with the surprisingly small painting of the Mona Lisa. There are a few reasons why it is now so famous. Firstly, it was painted during the Renaissance by one of history’s most famous artists and inventors, Leonardo da Vinci who incorporated the sfumato technique into the work, one of the canonical methods of painting in the era. The portrait’s realism was highly regarded even during the time that Leonardo da Vinci painted it. The provenance of the painting also adds to its stature, as it was purchased by King François I, becoming part of the royal collection, thereafter it spent some time in Napoleon’s bedroom before it found its home at one of the world’s most visited museums, the Louvre. The series of events that followed, including its theft, only heightened the work’s celebrity status.


Why Was the Mona Lisa Vandalized?

Each vandal had their reasons for attacking the Mona Lisa. For the Russian woman who threw a teacup at the work in 2009, it was out of revenge and anger directed at the French. For the cake incident in 2022 and the spray paint attack in 1974, the vandal was trying to bring awareness to a cause, such as climate change or better treatment for the disabled. Whatever the reason, the painting is a prime target for its high status and limelight. Whoever wishes to make a statement by attacking the Mona Lisa will get media attention.  


Cite this Article

Jaycene-Fay, Ravenscroft, ““Mona Lisa” Vandalism and Theft – Is the “Mona Lisa” Ruined?.” Art in Context. October 20, 2022. URL:

Ravenscroft, J. (2022, 20 October). “Mona Lisa” Vandalism and Theft – Is the “Mona Lisa” Ruined?. Art in Context.

Ravenscroft, Jaycene-Fay. ““Mona Lisa” Vandalism and Theft – Is the “Mona Lisa” Ruined?.” Art in Context, October 20, 2022.

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