One of the most sensational art heists in history took place Aug. 11, 1911. It was spontaneous rather than planned. The theft — the most famous picture in the world — Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” valued at over $100 million.
The brazen thief was an Italian, Vincenzo Peruggia, who had been newly hired as a Louvre Museum guard. He found the “Mona Lisa” gallery empty that infamous day, and, yielding to the temptation of her enigmatic smile, stole her. He kept her hidden for two years.
It was a secret he couldn’t live with. Foolishly, he tried to sell the Da Vinci masterpiece for $500,000. He was soon caught and the painting returned to a very grateful museum and a very relieved Parisian public.
The “Mona Lisa” was back in the news a few years later with a new twist. Marcel Duchamp, a French artist whose 1912 painting, “Nude Descending a Staircase,” had made him world famous over night, decided “Mona Lisa” needed a radical new transgender look. He gave her a mustache and a goatee.
Duchamp called his portrait, painted on a postcard reproduction he had come across in a bookshop, “L.H.O.O.Q.” It doesn’t stand for anything, but when the letters are pronounced it comes across in French as “elle a chaud au cul.” (“She has a hot ass.”)
Although Duchamp was straight, he enjoyed a visual gender bender. He also had a drag portrait taken of himself by the famous photographer Man Ray. His drag name was Rrose Selavy. (“C’est la vie.” ). One of his later Dada Period sculptures is actually an inverted men’s v-shaped urinal.
“The curious thing about the mustache and goatee,” explained Duchamp, “is that when you look at the ‘Mona Lisa.’ it becomes a man. Truth be known, it is a real man, and that is my discovery.”
Was this indeed a discovery? Dr. Lillian Schwartz, a Bell Laboratories computer analyst and author of “The Computer Artist’s Handbook,” says yes and offers proof. She juxtaposed an image of the only known self-portrait of DaVinci on top of that of the “Mona Lisa.” A perfect match! The “Mona Lisa” is none other than the artist. (Sly puss.)
Art historians say this is debatable. What is not is that this Renaissance Italian Painter (1452 – 1519) was a genius and the inventor of the parachute, the helicopter, the submarine, the machine gun and a prototype automobile. His 5,000 page notebook — where he wrote script backwards, from left to right for privacy — touches on secrets of anatomy, botany, geology, mechanics and astronomy.
It is perhaps smug LGBT aesthetic consolation to know that Leonardo DaVinci’s equally famous painting of Jesus dining with his disciples, “The Last Supper,” is the work of a gay artist and inventive Renaissance genius.
As one of my favorite mustachioed heroes from detective fiction, Hercule Poirot, would say — with a touch of redeeming punctuation added for clarity — “It’s all a matter of those little GrAY cells, mon ami.”
Ah, oui! And with a smug transgender “Mona Lisa” smile to prove it.