TDISH: An Inside Job

On August 21, 1911, a very low-tech and unsophisticated art heist of a popularly obscure Mona_Lisa_stolen-1911.jpgpainting (at the time) from the Louvre.  On that Monday morning, three men rushed out of the museum having been hidden all night.  With them, they carried Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa!  At the time, the Mona Lisa was little known outside the artistic community.  In fact, it was so little known that it was not noticed as missing for over 24 hours after it walked out the front door.  The brazen nature of the crime shocked the world and the Mona Lisa became a household name almost overnight.

Suspicion initially fell on prominent members of the art community – both artists and collectors alike.  In particular, both banking magnate J.P. Morgan and renowned artist Pablo Picasso were questioned about perhaps hiring thieves to bring the da Vinci masterpiece into their private collections.  In fact, the actual thief was one of the three men there that night – Vincenzo Perugia, a handyman who worked for the Louvre and had helped to install the glass box that protected the painting.  Perugia meant to sell the painting immediately, but the press coverage was much more than he expected and, as such, the Mona Lisa was “too hot.”

Vincenzo_peruggia.jpgPerugia hid his prize in a false bottom of  a trunk in his Paris apartment.  In late 1913, Perugia decided it would now be alright to try to sell the painting and brought it to an art dealer in Florence, Italy.  The dealer looked over the painting and called the authorities who promptly arrested Perugia.  The thief claimed patriotic motives for stealing the Mona Lisa saying that he was returning it to its Italian homeland after it had been stolen by Napoleon Bonaparte.  In fact, the Mona Lisa’s residence in France long predated Napoleon – it was purchased by the Sun King, Louis XIV who added it to his amazing collection at his palace at Versailles.  After Perugia’s arrest, the Mona Lisa was returned to its gallery in the Louvre on January 4, 1914.

Featured Image: “Mona Lisa.” By C2RMF: Galerie de tableaux en très haute définition: image page – Cropped and relevelled from File:Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, from C2RMF.jpg. Originally C2RMF: Galerie de tableaux en très haute définition: image page, Public Domain.
Image 1. “Mona Lisa Stolen.” By Unknown – “The Two Mona Lisas” by Walter Littlefield, article from Century Magazine, Vol. 87, N° 4 (Feb 1914). Published by The Century CompanyDirect link to article, Public Domain.
Image 2. “Vincenzo Perugia.” By Unknown –, Public Domain.
Source: “The Theft That Made The ‘Mona Lisa’ A Masterpiece.NPR: All Things Considered. 30 July 2011.




TDISH: Scientist and Heretic

On August 13, 1553, an Aragonese (in modern Spain) natural philosopher was arrested in Geneva, Switzerland.  This man, Michael Servetus, was accused by religious leader (and de facto head of the Geneva Republic) John Calvin of heresy.  Servetus was a leading scientific and religious thinker of his time – a period when the two were not thought of as different.  In some of his early work, Servetus questioned a core doctrine of both the Catholic Church and the leading Protestant movements of his time – the eternal trinity.  Servetus argued that since Jesus Christ was God-made-man, he, as the Son, could not have existed eternally.  Rather, he had been part of God (the Father) originally.  As such, the Trinity was flawed.  This belief, which may seem a lot like hair-splitting to a modern audience, led Servetus to question the legitimacy of churches that taught this belief.

Because of this, Servetus quickly came to the attention of the Spanish Inquisition, which no one wants to have happen to them since you never know when to expect them!  Servetus fled to one of the only places in Europe he thought he would be safe – the Protestant haven of Geneva.  While there, Servetus eventually came to Calvin’s attention for teaching ideas that ran counter to Calvinism – Servetus was now a condemned heretic by two Churches!  Before his arrest, however, Servetus was able to publish one last work that would guarantee his place his history.  In his work The Restoration of Christianity, Servetus described, for the first time, the circulatory nature of blood-flow.  Exactly what you were expecting from a theologian, right?  Servetus was executed by burning at the stake in Geneva in October 1553 at only 29 or 30 years of age.

Featured Image. “Michael Servetus.” By Christian Fritzsch (author) born in about 1660, Mittweida, Bautzen, Sachsen, Germany. –, Public Domain.
Source: The Michael Servetus Institute.


TDISH: When Bankers Kill

When we think of bankers today, we usually think of stodgy men in business suits and carrying briefcases.  In Renaissance Florence, however, banking could be a much more dangerous profession.  On April 26, 1478, the Pazzi family, a prominent banking and political family in Florence, arranged for a brutal and fatal assault on their most powerful rivals in business and politics – the brothers Lorenzo and Giuliano de’Medici.

By the date of the assault, Lorenzo had been Lord of Florence for just shy of a decade and held the city-state in the iron grip of his family.  A very controversial figure, Lorenzo had helped to Verrocchio_Lorenzo_de_Medicibuild Florence from a relatively provincial power to a world leader in banking and the arts.  The Medici family was renowned for its patronage of famous artists such as Michelangelo and Botticelli.  However, they were also thoroughly despised by many Florentines.  A once proud republic, Florence had been reduced to a de facto dictatorship under Lorenzo’s rule.

The Pazzi family, though still quite prosperous in banking, had seen better days by the Spring of 1478.  They had given up their noble titles long ago to be able to participate in Florence’s republican experiment.  Instead of holding political sway, they found themselves under the thumbs of their business rivals – the Medici.  This was an unbearable situation.

On that fateful Sunday morning, in the Duomo, the Cathedral of Florence, the Pazzi assailants attacked the brothers as they sat at High Mass.  Giuliano was stabbed numerous times and lay dying in a pool of blood on the cathedral floor.  A seriously wounded Lorenzo was able to escape with the aid of his men and was hidden in the sacristy of the church.


Most of the conspirators were immediately caught and, instead of being exiled, as was the traditional punishment for such a crime, especially when committed by influential families, were summarily executed.  Five of the murderers were hanged from the windows of the Palazzo della Signora, now known as the Palazzo Vecchio overlooking the main square of Florence.  As a result of this attack and the death of his brother, Lorenzo was able to consolidate his power even more and Florence was to be under Medici domination for the rest of the great man’s life.

A few years ago, the podcast, Stuff You Missed in History Class, did an outstanding episode on the Pazzi Conspiracy. Check it out on their site!

Featured Image – “View of Florence” By Luca Aless – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Baker, Nicholas Scott. 2009. For reasons of state: Political executions, republicanism, and the Medici in Florence, 1480-1560. Renaissance Quarterly 62 (2): 444.
Figure 1 – “Lorenzo the Magnificent.” By Andrea del Verrocchio – National Gallery of Art., Public Domain.
Figure 2 – “Giuliano de Medici.” By Sandro Botticelli – National Gallery of Art, Public Domain.