Monthly Archives: August 2014

August 21st – The Mona Lisa is stolen from the Louvre

The Mona Lisa goes missing from the Louvre in 1911!

The Mona Lisa goes missing from the Louvre in 1911!

On this day in 1911, the Mona Lisa (La Gioconda in Italian or La Joconde in French) by Leonardo da Vinci was stolen from the Louvre in Paris, France. Described as the “greatest art theft of the twentieth-century,” the Mona Lisa remained missing for two years before it was discovered in Florence, Italy in the hands of its thief, Vincenzo Peruggia.

On August 21st, 1911, Louis Béroud, an amateur walked into the Louvre, and went to the Salon Carré, where the Mona Lisa was displayed. When he arrived in the room he found that where the Mona Lisa should have hung, only four iron pegs remained. The Mona Lisa, one of the most famous works of art in the world, was stolen. Theories abounded as to the thief of the Mona Lisa. The French poet, Guillaume Apollinaire, who previously advocated burning the painting, was immediately implicated and arrested. Apollinaire accused Pablo Picasso of the theft after being thrown in jail; both were later acquitted however. Another rumour spread that blamed the theft on the German nationalists, in order to humiliate the French, defeated by the Germans in war a little of forty years prior.

It turned out it was not German nationalism, but Italian nationalism that proved the true culprit of the theft of the Mona Lisa. Over two years after the theft, in November 1913, a Florentine art dealer by the name of Alfred Geri received a letter from someone named “Leonardo” who offered to give the Mona Lisa to him in exchange for a reward. Geri then went to Giovanni Poggi, the director of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, for advice on how to proceed. After taking the Mona Lisa for “safekeeping”, Geri and Poggi informed the Florentine police who then promptly arrested Vincenzo Peruggia as the thief of the Mona Lisa. In August 1911, Peruggia was employed at the Louvre, and on the 21st, lifted the Mona Lisa when the Salon Carré was empty. He then hid in a broom closet in the Louvre till the next day, where he left the Louvre with the Mona Lisa under an artist’s smock that he was wearing. As for his motive, Peruggia believed that the Mona Lisa was one of the greatest works by one of the greatest Italian artists. Consequently, Peruggia believed that the Mona Lisa should be exhibited in an Italian museum, not the foreign, Parisian Louvre.

Peruggia went on to serve six months jail time for his crime, however he was praised all over Italy. Peruggia later on served in the Italian army during the First World War, The Mona Lisa was displayed all over Italy and then returned back to Louvre by the end of 1913. Peruggia’s theft of the Mona Lisa was the only theft of the painting in its history, however it has been at risk of damage since 1911. In 1956, the Mona Lisa survived having acid and a rock thrown at it. Luckily the 1956 attacks were minor enough that restoration of the Mona Lisa was possible. Afterwards, a bulletproof glass was put in place to protect the painting. This bulletproof glass proved invaluable in deterring red paint being thrown at the Mona Lisa in 1974 and a tea mug projectile in 2009. Mona Lisa‘s famous smile and gaze remains available for all to see at the Louvre, after being stolen and recovered almost one hundred years ago.

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August 15th – Detroit is surrendered to General Isaac Brock during the War of 1812

American General William Hull (in blue) surrenders his sword and Detroit to British General Isaac Brock (in red) on August 16th, 1812. Tecumseh looks on, in the background.

American General William Hull (in blue) surrenders his sword and Detroit to British General Isaac Brock (in red) on August 16th, 1812. Tecumseh looks on, in the background to the left.

I apologize for the rather lengthy hiatus between now and my last post. The summer I have been busy with finishing up my thesis and starting medical school, so I have not been able to blog as much as I hoped. I have a bit of a break before things start back up, and hope to get back to posting the occasional post! Enjoy!

On this day in 1812, Detroit was surrendered to British general Isaac Brock during the War of 1812. At that time, Detroit was a strategically important fortress town on the American/Canadian border. Following the American declaration of war on Britain (and by extension, her colony of British North America), skirmishes were fought between American militia and British regulars (which included their Upper Canadian and Native American allies) along the border. General William Hull, the commander of American forces in the Michigan Territory, began plans for an invasion into Upper Canada (the land that now constitutes much of Southern Ontario). The American invasion of Upper Canada from Michigan began on July 12th, 1812. Hull and his forces quickly returned back to Michigan across the Detroit River soon after however, upon learning of the British capture of Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island (north of Detroit). Faced with Native American forces (around 600 strong), led by Tecumseh, threatening his position from the rear, Hull and his forces (roughly 2500 in number) fortified their position, awaiting the upcoming attack on Detroit.

On the British side, things were not looking well. The British only had roughly 300 professional soldiers in the Detroit-Amherstburg (near present-day Windsor, Ontario) area, far outnumbered by the Americans. 400 Canadian militia are recruited by Brock to fight, however few have substantive combat experience. In order to give the appearance of a larger, stronger fighting force to the Americans, Brock dresses the Canadian militia in the redcoats of the British Army. This wardrobe adjustment had a dramatic effect on the upcoming battle.

On August 16th, 1812, British soldiers along with their Canadian allies dressed in red marched on Detroit. The British/Canadian forces still remained severely outnumbered by the Americans, however, with Tecumseh’s Native forces also joining the attack, the British side appeared formidable. In one of the grandest bluffs in military history, General Brock sent a message to General Hull, stating:
“The force at my disposal authorizes me to require of you the immediate surrender of Fort Detroit. It is far from my intention to join in a war of extermination, but you must be aware, that the numerous body of Indians who have attached themselves to my troops, will be beyond control the moment the contest commences.”

Hull, afraid of the result a Native attack would have on Detroit and its inhabitants, and the British artillery bombardment upon the fort, surrendered Detroit without a fight. General Brock and Tecumseh won the Battle of Detroit without firing a shot, leaving the British with virtual control of the Michigan Territory, and Upper Canada’s western flank protected.

The stunning victory at Detroit galvanized Canadian support for the war, who initially were tepid in their enthusiasm for fighting against the Americans. Native American people were also inspired by the American defeat at Detroit, causing many Native Americans to take up arms against American outposts throughout the Northwest (today’s Midwest). Tecumseh continued to lead a confederacy of Native American tribes during the war, however was killed at the Battle of the Thames in October 1813. General Isaac Brock was not able to celebrate for long, as he had to rush back towards the Niagara peninsula to defend Upper Canada from attack originating from New York state. On October 13th, 1812, General Brock died at the Battle of Queenston Heights. William Hull was court-martialed and sentenced to death for the disaster at Detroit, however the sentence was lightened to resignation from the army on order of President Madison, in recognition of Hull’s efforts during the American Revolution. Following his resignation, Hull settled in Newton, Massachusetts spending the rest of his life writing his memoirs in an attempt to exonerate himself of the failure at Detroit.

The following video is a short clip on YouTube summarizing the events of the battle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwM4SZX_TKM.

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