True story of the theft of the Mona Lisa

2009-08-19 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

The Lost Mona Lisa

R. A. Scotti

Bantam Press

R. A. SCOTTI’S book is subtitled The Extraordinary True Story of the Greatest Art Theft in History, and that gives a flavour of the purple prose that runs through it.

Of course, the theft of the Mona ­Lisa from the Louvre in 1911 and its recovery in Florence two years later is an extraordinary story, albeit a ­relatively well-known one.

It is also one that has never really been satisfactorily explained. Did the self-confessed thief, Vincenzo ­Peruggia, act alone? Who was the Marqu é s Eduardo de Valfierno, and did he really exist?

What happened to the forgeries of the Mona Lisa that were allegedly made during its absence from France? Did journalist Karl Decker invent his famous Saturday Evening Post story in 1932 from start to finish, or was it partly or wholly true?

The problem with Scotti’s book is that he doesn’t manage to give definitive answers to any of the questions, although he does come up with probabilities.

It is an entertaining enough tale, and the story of the arrests of Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire and the overwhelming incompetence of the police investigation is all quite fun. As is Scotti’s depiction of society in the first years of the 20th century. But ultimately, the gush ­outweighs the substance.

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