Mona Lisa is missing

| June 2, 2014 | 0 Comments

mona lisaOn Sunday, June 8 at 3:00 PM at the Francis Scott Key Auditorium – St. John’s College, the Caritas Society will present the Maryland premiere of Joe Medeiros’ feature length documentary, Mona Lisa is Missing: The True Story about the Man Who Stole the Masterpiece, the film the 63-year-old Medeiros never thought he would make.

The Mona Lisa was stolen? Bet you didn’t know that!

How could the most famous painting in the world have been stolen and you not know that?

Writer/Director Joe Medeiros, fresh out of Temple University Film School, didn’t know that either until in 1976 he read a single sentence in a book about Leonardo da Vinci, “On August 21, 1911 an Italian mason stole the Mona Lisa and took her to Italy.”

Medeiros thought this story was his ticket to Hollywood.  He would write a screenplay about the theft of the Mona Lisa and her thief – Vincenzo Peruggia.  But he failed.  For 32 years.

Why?

Because he could never uncover Peruggia’s true motive for stealing the painting.  Was it patriotism? Revenge?  Money?  For the love of a woman?  To incite World War I?

No account of the theft reported over its 100-year-plus history pointed to a clear motivation for Peruggia’s unthinkable act, or his decision to return the Mona Lisa to Florence in December 1913, two-and-one-half years after the theft.

For some un-writerlike reason, Medeiros didn’t want to create just any story to explain it.   He wanted to write the truth – to present this unimaginable event in the Mona Lisa’s history accurately and to give fair hearing to Vincenzo Peruggia’s life story.

During those 32 years, Medeiros’ life took an unexpected turn into a career in late night television.  He became a writer for Jay Leno and for 16 years was the head writer of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.  Yet any free time he had he returned to his obsession to bring the Mona Lisa theft story out of the filing cabinet and onto the big screen.

In 2008 on Medeiros revisiting the story once again, a Google search for new information popped up a surprising find.  Vincenzo Peruggia’s only child, 84-year-old Celestina, was alive and living in Dumenza, Italy.  With his 23 years of writing and directing experience for television and three award winning short documentaries on his resume, his wife and film producer, Justine Mestichelli Medeiros, said, “Celestina may be the answer to the Peruggia question.  Why not make a documentary?”

Or make it the way he did.

Because Celestina was ailing, Medeiros had no time to lose to begin filming, and in May 2008, he, Justine and a crew of three traveled to Dumenza to interview her.  What he encountered was a lovely, welcoming, little Italian grandmother who knew little about her father’s life since he passed away when she was only 18-months old.   Surprisingly, Medeiros knew more about her father than she did. The theft her father Vincenzo had committed shamed the Peruggia family and he was rarely mentioned.  But Celestina told Joe that before she died she wanted to know the true motive for her father stealing the painting.

The search was on and this led Medeiros and his researchers through thousands of documents in the French and Italian national archives. They interviewed Louvre and Uffizi officials and gained unprecedented access to the museums and to leading art and art crimes experts all over the world. Wading through this mountain of information, Medeiros built a profile of Peruggia as one who was ill treated and called “macaroni” by his Parisian co-workers, and who came to believe that all Italian art in the Louvre was stolen by Napoleon.

Medeiros took Peruggia’s grandson Silvio to Paris to retrace his grandfather’s life in the City of Lights and Peruggia’s granddaughter Graziella to Florence where Vincenzo returned the Mona Lisa.  Finally in the Florence State Archives, Medeiros found the missing piece he and Celestina longed to know – Peruggia’s true motive for stealing the Mona Lisa.

For tickets or information, call 410-972-4505 go to www.sjc.edu, click on “Friends,” click on Caritas Society.

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Category: Entertainment, Events, LIFE IN THE AREA

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