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Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in 1911, which drew more visitors to see the empty space than the actual painting.

Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in 1911, which drew more visitors to see the empty space than the actual painting.

Why is the Mona Lisa the most famous painting in the world?

Her enigmatic smile? The mystery surrounding her identity? The fact she was painted by Renaissance pin-up boy Leonardo da Vinci?

Sure, all of these things helped boost the popularity of the 16th century masterpiece.

But what really catapulted the small, unassuming portrait to international stardom was a daring burglary over 100 years ago.

When Italian handyman Vincenzo Peruggia stole the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911, he never could have guessed her absence would be the very thing that made her the most recognizable painting on the planet.

Suddenly images of the artwork were splashed across international newspapers, as the two-year police hunt hit dead-end after dead-end.

It wasn't until December 1913 -- exactly 100 years ago next month -- that Peruggia was finally caught and the Mona Lisa recovered, becoming the best known painting in a time before we shared images on TV, internet, and phones.

For the first time there were queues outside the Louvre, just to see the empty space where the painting had hung.


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