33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
"Vanished Smile" by R.A. Scotti is a fascinating account of the theft of Leonardo da Vinci's 'Mona Lisa' from the Musee de Louvre in 1911. A skilled writer who has previously produced both fiction and nonfiction books, Ms. Scotti is true to the historic specificity of the events but tells the tale with the verve and intrigue of a first-rate crime novelist. The result is an engrossing and entertaining read that should appeal to a wide audience, especially all those interested in art, history, or real-life mysteries.
Ms. Scotti leads us through the bizarre sequence of events that surrounded this, the crime of the 20th century. We become acquainted with an array of colorful personalities, from museum curators, petty criminals, forgers, police detectives and famous individuals including Guillaume Apollinaire and Pablo Picasso. We are taken back to a time where we understand how the unfolding drama captivated international audiences and ultimately helped to elevate the Mona Lisa to its present status as the world's most well-known painting.
Sandwiched between her narrative, Ms. Scotti includes an absorbing profile and short history of Leonardo and the Mona Lisa. She discusses the artists' life and times as well as his innovative painting techniques that combined to produce one of the most enduring works of art. The shrewd placement of this excursus in the middle of the text serves to heighten the suspense if not deepen the reader's appreciation of the Mona Lisa as both a brilliant technical achievement and cultural icon.
In the latter part of the book, Ms. Scotti relates how the perpetrator was finally apprehended while suggesting that unknown others may well have been involved in the heist. Ms. Scotti successfully invokes the enduring mystery about the crime, retelling a washed-up journalist's fanciful yarn that suggests there may have been far more to the story than has been generally recognized. As the author recounts how the Mona Lisa was eventualy recovered and later toured the world to great acclaim, she tantalizingly suggests that the full truth surrounding the theft of the Mona Lisa remains as mysterious to us today as her timelessly captivating and enigmatic smile.
I highly recommend this book to everyone.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2009
R. A. Scotti makes history FUN! VANISHED SMILE: THE MYSTERIOUS THEFT OF MONA LISA reads like a who-dunnit mystery. She starts with the 1911 theft, then follows along with the investigation as conducted by French officials. Never letting on as to the who as she tells the story of the how. False trails lead to the implication of Pablo Picasso! But, two years later the real thief emerges from the shadows.
I won't spoil the ending for you! R.A. Scotti examines contempory as well as later theories as to the WHY of the theft. Included along the way, you'll find lots of information about the history of the Mona Lisa and her creator, Leonardo da Vinci. All of which makes for a fast paced, interesting jaunt through one of history's little "side-shows."
Perhaps, like me, you'd never heard about "l'Affaire de la Joconde." It's a story worth learning. One of those strange tales that could happen in ONLY real life!
I give VANISHED SMILE by R.A. Scotti FIVE STARS!! Great writing style, a marvelous story, and thought provoking discussion of the possible "unknowns" of the entire case and history of the Mona Lisa. A few illustrations help the story along. As I said, it reads more like a who-dunnit mystery than a non-fiction history book. This is a book that anybody who likes art, Da Vinci, history or mystery could enjoy. Worthwhile, enjoyable reading.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Though the mastermind behind the theft of the Mona Lisa nearly a century ago may never be known, this book is a well written presentation of the event.
It's not often that "page-turner" and "non-fiction" are used together, but this is both. Scotti's style is to tell the story without unnecessary embellishment. It flowed nicely and the pieces of the puzzle fit together well.
She provides a needed sketch of da Vinci plus the birth and development of the Mona Lisa. She also gives us a fascinating look at the four hundred years of the painting's travels and travails leading up to the theft; as well as its last hundred years' journies.
This book held my attention throughout, and though it is not a long book but it was long enough to treat the story in sufficient detail. This was certainly entertaining and I highly recommend it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I find it hilarious that one of the critical Amazon reviews of "Vanished Smile" compared it unfavorably to Dan Brown! Perhaps the reader was expecting Leonardo DaVinci to jump out of a helicopter, or to find out that Mona Lisa herself was a long lost ancestor of Christ's. You'll find neither of those things in R.A. Scotti's compact account of the daring theft of history's most famous painting and its bizarre, twisted aftermath. What you will find is clear, beautifully written, well-researched journalism. As other's have pointed out, Scotti's done a terrific job of laying out the facts with flair, humor and, in the end, tremendous heart. This is the kind of stranger-than-fiction tale that even Dan Brown wouldn't have the guts to concoct -- and it's all true. Well, maybe not ALL true. What do I mean? You'll just have to read the book to find out. And I really don't think you'll miss the helicopter.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
So, I had to check this book out because my birthday is the same day, August 21 -- though many years later! I love learning about history and this was something I had not heard of before so I was particularly intrigued. Too bad it really failed to deliver for me. I think I would have enjoyed this a bit more if it stayed on course but the narrative seems to diverge in many places, jumping around to talk about Da Vinci, spending a whole lot of time talking about Picasso and his cohorts . . . so much so that I often found myself wondering when the author was going to return to the subject of the actual theft. The whole affair is a bit suspect and filled with intrigue, which the author is clearly trying to convey with her writing style but fell short for me. Because so much of what is written is a bit of hearsay, if you will, and the way the author presents it, I feel as if it would have been much more successful as a historical fiction and that, truly, that is more what the author wished as well. It was an interesting read, particularly if you skip over most of the middle hundred pages, and I definitely learned some things from it, but I wouldn't pick it up expecting to be flooded with all sorts of facts or put it down feeling like you have gained any sort of secret insight.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
R.A. Scotti provides us with a very-readable crime story in the book "Vanished Smile: The Mysterious theft of Mona Lisa". In 1911, a thief brazenly walked off with the most famous painting in the most famous art museum in the world. For almost two years, the world wondered where it went.
Scotti writes the book in a style of a crime novel, where the story is told in the chronological order in which the story unfolded. In the opening chapters, a mysterious character promises a wealthy businessman an exclusive deal - sole possession of an exclusive painting.
A few pages later, Scott retells the story of the theft and the following investigation. The author also describes the organizational fall-out, specifically the termination of the director of the Louvre. The story is told in a flowing and very readable format.
For readers like me who are unfamiliar with the art world, Scotti provides a history of the Mona Lisa, or La Jaconde, as it is known in France. Who was this mysterious woman? Scotti provides the readers with an overview of the most likely explanation. In the advance reading copy, this chapter is inserted into the middle of the book. It is useful information, but the placement of the chapter breaks the flow of the story. This is my only major complaint for this otherwise great book.
After the intensive investigation failed to recover the Mona Lisa, the world was ready to accept the fact the original painting was lost forever. But in 1913, the thief came forward and admitted to the crime. He provided a plausible explanation for the story, which the investigators readily accepted. However, a star reporter for William Rudolph Hearst, who created the "You provide the picture and I'll provide the war" style of journalism, thought there was much more to the story. After waiting for the original mastermind to pass away, Karl Decker broke his story in a 1932 edition of the "Saturday Evening Post" revealing the true motivation behind the crime.
As a reader who is unfamiliar with art history, "Vanished Smile" was both an educational and entertaining read.
This review is from an advance reading copy of the book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2009
Okay, so I'm a cretin and I'm not all that impressed with Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa (La Joconde). It's not a large or particularly impressive painting in a museum of remarkable paintings and when jostled by the crowds of visitors that shuffle into the Louvre to see her but skip other fine works of art the painting loses more of its dim luster.
As for her captivating smile, yeah, well there are more alluring and mysterious smiles out there from ladies who haven't had the good fortune of being secured through history by an artist of da Vinci's stature and caliber. Are fans in love with the painting or impressed with another one of da Vinci's great talents?
Hard to say and who knows maybe we catch her looking at us, caught in our baths, and her smile at our embarrassment suggests she has uncovered a humorous truth. But that's another story. This one is about R.A. Scotti's book, VANISHED SMILE- The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa.
Scotti's book is a great 'who and why dunnit;' a real-life mystery the likes of which any lover of mysteries would appreciate and enjoy. Through wonderful research and a great knack for 'storyline' this factual look at the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre on August 21, 1911 offers up a good and even highly entertaining read. It is a fun read as well with historical trivia gems scattered throughout its pages to shed some interesting light on the Louvre, Paris, da Vinci, Picasso, the historical heist, and the whole lack of eyebrow thing? A varnish problem, maybe? But I suppose it beats that Freida Kahlo look.
With good or interesting books I tend to dog-ear pages or underline things or make comments here and there- all of which I did to my hardcover copy, many times.
The only problem I had with the book came from the annoying numbering system within its ten semi-chapter heading beginning with A Perfect Crime. They are mini-chapters within chapters each beginning with the number One.
Yeah, well that's a layout problem but doesn't take away from the fact that Scotti delivered a noteworthy and enjoyable book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Did you realize that the Mona Lisa, the fabled painting by Leonardo da Vinci, was once stolen from the Louvre? On August 22, 1911, the staff of the Musee de Louvre noticed a blank spot on the wall where the Mona Lisa had been displayed. When first asked about it, some thought it might have been removed for photography, but further checking forced Louvre officials to realize the truth--it had been stolen. The fact that it took more than 24 hours to realize that the Mona Lisa had gone missing is troubling, it apparently left the building on August 21. Indeed, as a museum professional I found this part of the story deeply troubling. Had they realized it sooner might it have been recovered? By the time the police were brought in the trail was ridiculously cold.
As it turned out, the Mona Lisa was not lost forever but only remained missing for about two years. During that time the police, led by famed French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon, had a number suspects including such individuals as avant-garde poet Guillaume Apollinaire and artist Pablo Picasso. In 1913 a note signed "Leonardo" led to the famous painting's recovery in Florence, Iraly, and the confession of a thief. But was that the end of it? Not according to author R.A. Scotti, who suggests but cannot prove that there was much more to the caper than this happy ending.
As it is Scotti leads readers on a fascinating and sometimes bizarre recounting of this episode in art history. While there are still many questions about this caper, the best evidence suggests that the theft was by an Italian nationalist who thought the French should not have such a treasure.
In addition to offering a compelling account of a complex crime, Scotti also presents an engaging portrait of Leonardo da Vinci and his subject. She was presumed to have been a young lady from Florence named Lisa del Giocondo, and the portrait is still often known as "La Joconde." As an added bonus, Scotti relates a bit about the later history of the Mona Lisa and its place in Western Civilization. "Vanished Smile" is a lively and enlightening work of nonfiction that reads like a crime thriller.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
In July of 2007, we were on a local sightseeing bus in Florence, Italy when the recording directed our attention to the Hotel la Giaconda; nothing that it was there that the Mona Lisa was found in a closet. Since I'm a completely inadequate art historian, I didn't have a clue about the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa or any of the details surrounding it. But I now understand a little more, although we may never truly know the complete story.
R.A. Scotti's Vanished Smile brings an excellent combination of insight, research and perspective to this story that should reward at lest the casual art fan (I'll leave it to the serious ones to decide for themselves). From the belated discovery of her disappearance to the recovery of Leonardo's masterpiece two years later, Scotti weaves a fascinating narrative that includes famous names from both the world of criminology and art (did you know that Pablo Picasso was originally one of the suspects?).
Perhaps what most enlightened me was a fascinating chapter that gives the reader a better understanding as to the significance of this particular painting, from her original migration from Italy to France, her sentimental appeal to art fans the world over, to the factors that make her such a significant work of art.
Yes, la Giaconda was recovered, and the self-confessed thief arrested and convicted, however the case in its entirety has not been fully explained. Scotti attempts to do that with some plausible reconstruction of rumor, fueled by the unsubstantiated claims of a mysterious raconteur and thief. If a century-old true crime tale intrigues you, you should find this particular book fulfilling.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This is a three-star work that earns four stars from me just for bringing this story forward.
Scotti stumbles here and there along the way, indulging a little too much in his own myopic view of the art scene and his Francophilia, but I think most readers will be blown away what happened at the Louvre, to which painting, and who was accused.
No art afficionado I, but one would expect that even the average once-in-a-while museum goer would know that Mona Lisa was once stolen (!) and later recovered, meaning that the picture on display has not been subject to full control and could conceivably be a fake. These facts are remarkable enough on their own. Now add in the fact that Pablo Picasso was considered a suspect and actually taken into custody in association with the invetigation. And, the further fact that whatever involvement Picasso may have had in Mona Lisa's theft, he was certainly involved in other thefts from the Paris museum - including Bronze Age figurines.
Scotti climbs inside "le bande de Picasso" in the most compelling portions of the book, and he winds up with something more than "The Thomas Crown Affair."
I'm not sure if the "art crimes" reader ("THE RESCUE ARTIST," "THE IRISH GAME," EVEN "THE FORGER'S TALE) will find enough here to satisfy their hunger; but, it should hold anyone's interest, and could constitute a nice entre into more reading on Picasso.