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The Louvre’s famed Winged Victory of Samothrace, a marble sculpture of the Greek goddess Nike dating back to the 2nd century BC, has been prominently displayed at the museum since 1884. In September 2013, the work will be removed from public view so it can undergo a $4 million restoration. After the sculpture and its base have been cleaned and repaired, Winged Victory will return to its legendary spot at the museum. Officials expect the project to be completed by Spring 2014.

It became clear that Winged Victory was in need of some attention after becoming significantly discolored by dirt, lessening the distinction between the white marble of the sculpture and the gray marble of the its base. The restoration, the first in nearly 80 years, will also deal with a support frame that was inserted on the back of the statue and a crack in the work’s base. The floors, walls, stairs, and ceilings surrounding the statue will also be cleaned; this portion of the project is less timely and is expected to reach completion in late 2014 or early 2015.

The Louvre is currently working on a book, a documentary, and a symposium focusing on the Winged Victory, one of the museum's best-known pieces along with the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo.

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Friday, 28 September 2012 14:14

A Younger Mona Lisa? Some Researchers Say Yes

Shortly before World War I English art collector, Hugh Blaker, found a portrait now dubbed the Isleworth Mona Lisa in Isleworth, London. For the past 35 years the Zurich-based Mona Lisa Foundation has been working to prove that the painting predates Leonardo da Vinci’s 16th century masterpiece by 11 to 12 years. The experts involved based this conclusion on a series of regression tests, mathematical comparisons, and historical and archival records.

While at least one da Vinci expert is doubtful, the researchers involved in the Mona Lisa Foundation’s project are confident in their claim. Mathematical tests have proven that both of the sitters are in exactly the same place. Such accuracy was typical of da Vinci. Sporting the same enigmatic smiles, the posture, hands, faces, and expressions bear a striking resemblance.

Dissidents, including Oxford art historian Martin Kemp, think that the Isleworth Mona Lisa lacks the subtle details of the original. While the Isleworth Mona Lisa does look like a younger version of the original, the veil, hair, and the translucent layer of the sitter’s dress are lacking in quality.

The Isleworth Mona Lisa turned up in the home of an English nobleman during the late 19th century and was shipped to the United States during the First World War. The painting was subject to analysis in Italy and was eventually taken to Switzerland where it remained in a bank vault for 40 years. The Isleworth Mona Lisa was unveiled by the Foundation on Thursday in Geneva and evidence of the painting’s authenticity was presented at the University of California.

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On 21 August 1911, someone entered the Salon Carre of the Musée du Louvre in Paris, removed the Mona Lisa from the wall, unfastened the clamps holding the panel to its frame, and walked off. A painstaking police investigation followed, as newspapers fumed over such a brazen theft. Police failed to capture the thief until he tried to sell the painting in Florence more than two years later.

Stealing the Mona Lisa is the stuff of lore and legend. The daring theft of the world’s most famous painting was assumed to be the work of a savvy operator. Yet the truth was far different. Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece was lifted by an immigrant housepainter, who didn’t know what to do with the painting once it was in his hands. The unglamorous facts of the case didn’t keep the crime from turning into a myth.

It fell to Joe Medeiros, the former head writer for “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”, to readdress the high-profile robbery in a new feature documentary, “The Missing Piece”. A first-time film-maker, Medeiros sets out to unravel the many theories that have fueled books about the crime.

That job also took decades for Medeiros. Learning of the theft years ago, he began a screenplay about it. Failing to complete it, he took other jobs and eventually signed on with Jay Leno and moved with the comedian to Los Angeles. When he retired from writing jokes, Medeiros, now 60, turned his obsession into a documentary. The film was not finished in time to be publicly released on the crime’s 21 August centennial, but copies were given to journalists.

In the first-person style of Michael Moore, Medeiros chases his subject. Unlike Moore, to whom people won’t talk, Medeiros finds people eager to discuss the Vincenzo Peruggia legend—authors of books on the theft, art historians and art cops, Louvre curators, and Peruggia’s 84-year-old daughter, Celestina, who lives in her father’s birthplace, the village of Dumenza, north of Milan near the French border. He died when she was two.

In a film that looks a lot like on-the-job training, familiar facts and new ones emerge. Peruggia wasn’t a suave charmer, but a housepainter of five feet three inches who joined a flood of Italians seeking work in France. His painting trade had already afflicted him with lead poisoning, which doctors said diminished his mental capacities and his judgement. He felt persecuted by anti-Italian sentiment in France at the time, and by the epithet “sale macaroni” (dirty macaroni).

Thanks to documents from the Paris archive, Medeiros reconstructs the theft itself—part plan, part opportunism. Entering the Salle Carre of the Louvre on a Monday, when the closed museum had only 12 guards on duty, Peruggia seems to have decided to steal the Mona Lisa, among other Italian paintings, because of its small size. Medeiros shows that Peruggia could not have hidden the painting under his white worker’s smock, as was assumed, but wrapped it up in the smock and walked out. At the time, signs were posted in French museums asking visitors to wake up guards who had fallen asleep.

One witness, a plumber, saw Peruggia in the gallery. Another saw him walk down the street and throw away a doorknob that fell off the gallery door, locking him inside for a time. His fingerprints were on the glass that covered the painting, but French police made no connection, despite Peruggia’s two prior arrests for minor infractions.

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If you were standing outside the Louvre in Paris on the morning of Aug. 21, 1911, you might have noticed three men hurrying out of the museum.

They would have been pretty conspicuous on a quiet Monday morning, writer and historian James Zug tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz. "Sunday night was a big social night in Paris," he says, "so a lot of people were hung over on Monday morning."

The men, three Italian handymen, were not hungover. But they might have been a little tired. They'd just spent the night in an art-supply closet.

And on that morning, with the Louvre still closed, they slipped out of the closet and lifted 200 pounds of painting, frame and protective glass case off the wall. Stripped of its frame and case, the wooden canvas was covered with a blanket and hustled off to the Quai d'Orsay station, where the trio boarded a 7:47 a.m. express train out of the city.

They'd stolen the "Mona Lisa."

Famous, Overnight

Before its theft, the "Mona Lisa" was not widely known outside the art world. Leonardo da Vinci painted it in 1507, but it wasn't until the 1860s that critics began to hail it as a masterwork of Renaissance painting. And that judgment didn't filter outside a thin slice of French intelligentsia.

"The 'Mona Lisa' wasn't even the most famous painting in its gallery, let alone in the Louvre," Zug says.

Dorothy and Tom Hoobler wrote about the painting's heist in their book, The Crimes of Paris. It was 28 hours, they say, until anyone even noticed the four bare hooks.

The guy who noticed was a pushy still-life artist who set up his easel to paint that gallery in the Louvre.

"He felt he couldn't work as long as the 'Mona Lisa' wasn't there," Tom Hoobler says.

But the artist wasn't alarmed. At that time, there was a project under way to photograph the Louvre's many works. Each piece had to be taken to the roof, since cameras of the day did not work well inside.

"So finally he persuaded a guard to go see how long the photographers were going to have the painting," Tom Hoobler says. "He went off and came back, and said, 'You know what, the photographers say they don't have it!' "

All of a sudden, James Zug says, "the 'Mona Lisa' becomes this incredibly famous painting — literally overnight."

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Florence, 24 June (AKI) - Italy has launched a campaign to convince the Louvre Museum in Paris to lend the Mona Lisa painting to Florence's Uffizi Gallery in 2013 to mark the 100th anniversary of its recovery following one of history's most famous art thefts.

The Italian Culture Ministry and the Province of Florence have jointly launched an appeal to the French to lend them what may be the world's most famous masterpieces, but the prestigious French museum said the painting is not in the condition to withstand the trip south.

Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa was briefly displayed in the Uffizi in 1913 after being recovered in a Florence hotel two years after its theft from the Louvre.

That was the last time it appeared in Italy and only one of three times the work was displayed outside of the Louvre, according to a statement posted on Thursday on the Province of Florence website.

Starting with Italian politicians, the initiative aims to collect at least 100,000 signatures to be sent to France in around six months, the statement said.

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Thursday, 26 May 2011 01:19

Has the Mona Lisa been found?

The secret behind the famously enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa, the world's most famous painting, could soon be solved.

Archaeologists on a dig in Italy claim to have discovered the skull of the woman who posed for Leonardo's da Vinci's  masterpiece.

The excavation team revealed over the weekend that it had found a crypt after a two-week search at an abandoned convent in Florence.

But the grave beneath St. Ursula convent, believed to be the final resting place of Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo, has now yielded a female-sized skull.

The merchant's wife is widely believed to have been the life model for da Vinci's best-known work.

Officials say the skull was found five feet under the convent's original floor along with other fragments of human ribs and vertebrae.

Now scientists will compare the DNA in the bones with the remains of the model's two children who were buried nearby in an attempt to authenticate the find.

If scientists can confirm the skull belongs to the model, forensic artists will then attempt to reconstruct her face to see how it compares to the 500-year-old version painted by da Vinci - and perhaps solve the riddle of the Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile in the process.

Archeologist Silvano Vinceti, who is in charge of the dig, explained: 'We don't know yet if the bones belong to one single skeleton or more than one.

'But this confirms our hypothesis that in St.Ursula convent there are still human bones and we cannot exclude that among them there are bones belonging to Lisa Gherardini.'

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Natalia Guicciardini Strozzi, a member of one of Florence's oldest noble families, said that searching for and exhuming the remains of Lisa Gherardini was "a sacrilegious act".

Gherardini was the wife of a rich Florentine silk merchant and is believed by many art historians to have been the model for Leonardo da Vinci's best known painting, which today hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

A team of Italian researchers began the hunt for her skeleton beneath a convent in Florence, using ground-penetrating radar to search for evidence of old tombs.

They hope to find Gherardini's remains and to gather enough skull fragments to be able to reconstruct her face.

That would enable a comparison to be made with the Mona Lisa to determine once and for all whether Gherardini was the inspiration for the portrait – an objective that some scholars have said is far-fetched.

"My ancestor's remains should be left to rest in peace," said the princess, who is also an actress, winemaker and former ballerina.

"What difference would finding her remains make to the allure of Leonardo's painting? The attempt to find her bones seems to me an inappropriate and sacrilegious act."

The princess's family own an estate near San Gimignano, the Tuscan village known as the "medieval Manhattan" for the 72 stone towers built by competing families during the Middle Ages, of which 13 remain.

She is a descendant of two noble lines, the Strozzis and the Giucciardinis, and Niccolo Machiavelli worked as a secretary to one of her ancestors.

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