Should Italy Ask For The 'La Giocanda' Back?

Better known as Leonardo Da Vinci's 'Mona Lisa' - the most famous painting in the world - has been sitting (and smirking) at the Louvre in Paris since the 16th century after Leonardo Da Vinci sold it - for roughly $10 million - to King Francois I.

As such, as the story goes, it was a legal, I assume, transaction between the King and Da Vinci with France retaining ownership of the painting. Culturally, it's a different story for Italian nationalists.

In 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen by an Italian nationalist who believe the painting belonged in Italy citing it was stolen by Napoleon. However, the painting was never part of a Napoleon plunder of Italian treasures. The thief, Vincenzo Perruggia, was caught, convicted by an Italian jury and the painting returned to the museum in 1913. Questions remain about Perruggia's real motives and whether he acted alone.

Already famous, the heist propelled the Mona Lisa into yet another level of popularity where it has permanently parked itself on the public's imagination.

Regardless of Perruggia's mistaken belief, should Italy ask for the Mona Lisa back? Are national governments under any obligation to return great works of art to the country of origin, if anything, out of goodwill?


  1. No easy question. I don't think the Monalisa should be given back to Italy since as you say it was sold by the author in a regular transaction. In principle, works that were plundered or stolen or bought in illegal transactions should be returned to the country of origin - the bas-reliefs of the Parthenon back to Greece from the UK, for example. When though too much time has elapsed (lots of centuries or even thousands of years) it would be too complicated to return the works to their original places and this would create a chain reaction impossible to manage:

    the ancient Romans did plunder the ancient world, but so did the Persians, the Greeks, the Macedonians, the Egyptians, the Spaniards, the Chinese, the Indians etc.

    Therefore some time limits should be set, although I don't see how one could set criteria valid for so many different epochs and cases.

  2. According to Robert Wallace in The World of Leaonardo, Time-Life Library of Art,1966, Time-Life Books, New York, Leonardo had the Mona Lisa with him at the Cloux Manor, next to Amboise castle where Francis I housed him, when the painter died in 1519.
    No mention is made of the king buying the painting but at any rate it was not taken or stolen from Italy. I guess it rightfully belongs to France.

  3. I don't think there's any question it belongs to France. I was stirring the pot and exploring the possibility if there was a loophole. Maybe France can put it up on ebay and let Italy bid for it.

    Legalities and jokes aside, it's a shame an important piece of art is not in the possession of the country of origin.


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