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corner ...Perugia and his trial
Vincenzo Perugia had once worked at the Louvre. At the time, Louvre officials were more worried about vandalism than about theft. Crazed patrons had attacked famous works with razor blades and acid, so several of the museum's more prominent paintings, including the Mona Lisa, were selected to have special glass-covered viewing boxes made for them. (In fact, it was Perugia who had built the box for the Mona Lisa, the same box found discarded in the stairwell with his left thumbprint.)

In contrast to some of the more complex theories that had been proposed during the investigation of the theft, Perugia's self-proclaimed motive was disarmingly simple. According to author Seymour Reit, "Vincenzo
Perugia's Paris apartment
Perugia was an Italian workman, a carpenter. He lived hand to mouth. He hated France. He pined for Italy. He loved the painting. He thought all the paintings — the Italian masterpieces in the Louvre — had been stolen by Napoleon and brought to France, which upset him terribly." (Although Napoleon had looted many of Italy's national treasures during his occupation, La Joconde had belonged to France since Francois I received it from Leonardo himself.)

Perugia's trial was a spectacle. Reit recounts: "Perugia jumped and interrupted the Court. He argued with the judge who kept banging the gavel and telling him to be quiet. He argued with his lawyer. He argued with the prosecutors." Perugia indulged in emotional outbursts and indignant rage, claiming that La Gioconda's beauty had bewitched him, and that his only thought was to rescue her from France, even though he had demanded the rather exorbitant fee of 500,000 lire from Geri for the return of the painting. Perugia hedged and contradicted himself many times during his trial. He claimed to have worked alone, then later incriminated two Italian friends in the theft. But no conclusive evidence was found to corroborate his latter claim.

Ironically, Perugia became a hero in Italy for his patriotic, though misguided zeal. "Public opinion was entirely on his side," says Reit. "The spectators would cheer when he said something and grumble when the prosecution tried to make a point. He was in jail but he got love letters," says Reit.
Perugia in Florence courtroom
"People sent him bottles of wine. Women baked cakes for him. He was really important, and this did not displease him."

Eventually, the defense called a psychiatrist who testified that Perugia was "intellectually deficient," and the sympathetic Italian tribunal gave him a reduced sentence of seven months. Since by that time, he'd been in jail for nearly eight, Perugia was released.

Why had the Mona Lisa been the first painting he chose to rescue from France? Perhaps because, to Perugia, she seemed the most beautiful.

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