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Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of the Mona Lisa


Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of the Mona Lisa Cover

ISBN13: 9780307278388
ISBN10: 0307278387
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. What does Vanished Smile reveal about the art world in Europe in the early decades of the twentieth-century? In what ways was that world in the midst of momentous changes?

2. What are some of the most surprising facts about the Mona Lisa revealed in Vanished Smile? How does the painting’s remarkable history contribute to its current status?

3. How did Picasso, Apollinaire, and other avant-garde artists regard the Mona Lisa? Why were they so passionately opposed to museums like the Louvre? Does their critique of museums have merit today?

4. Scotti writes that “Apollinaire would call it ‘strange, incredible, tragic, and amusing all at once’ that he was the only person ever arrested in France for the theft of the Mona Lisa” [p.109]. Why was the poet/provocateur considered a prime suspect in the Mona Lisa's theft? How did public perceptions of his character, and his own radical views about art, help to implicate him? What effect did his arrest have on him?

5. Scotti shows that Peruggia’s stated motive for stealing the Mona Lisa—to restore her to her rightful place in Italy from which, he wrongly assumed, Napoleon had stolen her—was merely a cover for a money-making scheme. But the Louvre is filled with many great works that were plundered by Napoleon, and indeed many museums exhibit works of art that were either stolen or acquired in suspect transactions. Should museums be allowed to show and profit from works that were illegally or unethically acquired?

6. Why would thousands flock to the Louvre to view the empty space where the Mona Lisa had hung? How could the loss of a painting, even one as great as Mona Lisa, arouse such collective public grieving?

7. What are some of the more outlandish theories that have been advanced to explain the Mona Lisa’s strange power to enchant? What are some of the more poetic responses to her that Scotti includes in her narrative?

8. “If Mona Lisa is not the most beautiful, fashionable, or glamorous woman,” Scotti writes, “She is the most beguiling. . . . She touches without words, offering not a kiss or a caress but the anticipation. . . . If we try to look away, she follows us and will not let go” [p. 129-130]. What is it that makes the painting so “beguiling”?

9. Scotti writes that “To Renaissance artists, Mona Lisa represented an extraordinary technical achievement. To the Romantics she posed a tantalizing psychological puzzle”  [p. 67]. What might account for this dramatic change in how the Mona Lisa was viewed? Which is the more remarkable aspect of the painting, its technical mastery or its psychological depth?

10. Does Karl Decker’s story of how and why the Mona Lisa was stolen seem plausible? If not, what would motivate him to concoct such a story?

11. Why was the story of Mona Lisa’s theft such an international sensation? Why did it capture headlines around the world for so long?

12. What surprising aspects of Picasso’s character and aesthetic vision emerge from Vanished Smile?

13. Scotti writes that Mona Lisa is “both disconcertingly real and transcendent” [p. 127]. What other dichotomies does the painting seem to embody or reflect?

14. Near the end of the book, Scotti asks, “If Peruggia was not the lone thief and the marqués and his expert forger were fictions, the mystery remains: Who masterminded the theft and, even more puzzling, why?” [p. 212]. What are some possible answers to this intriguing question?

(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)

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Macster, September 4, 2011 (view all comments by Macster)
While everyone is familiar with the Mona Lisa, not everyone knows that she took a "vacation" from the Louvre in the early 20th century. Someone just walked in and took her off the wall. During the 2 years she was gone, there were many suspects, including Picasso. What I like is that Scotti covers more than just the mystery of the theft, which did not end when she was eventurally returned, but also the mystery that is the Mona Lisa herself. She has a facinating history.
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Product Details

The Mysterious Theft of the Mona Lisa
Scotti, R A
Scotti, R. A.
Western Europe - General
Popular Culture - General
History : General
Other Miscellaneous Crimes
Europe - France
Popular Culture
Art-History and Criticism
art;history;mona lisa;non-fiction;france;crime;art theft;mystery;paris;louvre;art history;true crime;leonardo da vinci;20th century;artists
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
16 ILLU.; 1 MAP
7.94x5.54x.74 in. .56 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Arts and Entertainment » Art » Art History Surveys
Arts and Entertainment » Art » Artists
Arts and Entertainment » Art » History and Criticism
Arts and Entertainment » Art » Museum Studies
History and Social Science » Crime » Criminology
History and Social Science » Crime » True Crime
History and Social Science » World History » France » General

Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of the Mona Lisa Used Trade Paper
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Product details 256 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780307278388 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , In 1911, Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" vanished from the Louvre. As French detectives traced the thieves, a burgeoning international media hyped news of the heist. "Vanished Smile" reopens the case of the most audacious and perplexing art theft ever committed.
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