History shows that most art crimes are not committed for the love of art. According to the Art Loss Register – the world’s largest private international database of stolen art and provider of recovery and search services - most thieves steal for money. Don’t be fooled: thieves are not art connoisseurs or glamorous businessmen who are untouchable by the law (as in The Thomas Crown Affair), but mercenaries who generally have their fingers in several illegal pies at any one time. When convicted, they generally find themselves sentenced to a lengthy stint in jail.
Only very occasionally does art theft have romantic motives, the Mona Lisa heist being history’s main example. In 1911, Vincenzo Perugia of Italy entered the Louvre in Paris and stole the world’s most famous painting by posing as a workman and hiding it under his smock. The motive behind his crime? Patriotism. Perugia felt that a great Italian painting should be kept in its home country not France. What he didn’t realise was that da Vinci himself had sold the Mona Lisa to the French King Francis I for 4,000 gold coins - which is how the work came to find itself in France. The question that remains is, although the Mona Lisa which hangs in the Louvre today is the one that was recovered, is it the real one? Some art historians maintain that we can never be sure...
Of course as Perugia himself discovered, it’s one thing to steal a painting and another to sell it. However, even if someone steals an artwork that’s worth 10 million and sells it on for just one million, it is still possible to make good money. When criminals have no success in passing a stolen painting on, they often try to sell it back to the museum for ransom. Such was the case with the robbery of Rembrandt and Renoir masterpieces from Stockholm's National Museum in 2000. The criminals demanded "several million kronor" for the return of the masterpieces. Eight men were subsequently arrested and have been jailed for up to six and a half years each.
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