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Mona Lisa is Missing! Filmakers Joe Medeiros + Justine Mestichelli Medeiros Help Solve This Historic Art Crime

If we told you that the Mona Lisa was missing, you probably wouldn’t believe it. But this was the case in 1911 when, for two years, the world’s most famous painting was nowhere to be found!

Press play above to hear this amazing art crime story!
This epic crime was big news in 1911
Film makers Joe Medeiros + Justine Mestichelli Medeiros
Film makers Joe Medeiros + Justine Mestichelli Medeiros

Our guests today, Joe Medeiros and Justine Mestichelli Medeiros are experts on this fascinating story and have produced a documentary called Mona Lisa is Missing, where they take viewers on their journey as they unearth the truth about this great heist.

Surprisingly, the story is not that well-documented and, where it has been recorded, the truth is twisted. Joe and Justine came at it from a different angle, wanting to present their findings with accuracy and integrity.

“Joe’s obsession comes from his desire to know. If you sat with him and played Trivial Pursuit, you’ll lose.” — Justine Mestichelli Medeiros [0:21:41.0]

“We don’t know what actually, actually happened. I only know what we have records of.” — Joe Medeiros [0:34:23.0]

In this episode, we hear about this passion project and how reading one line in a book about Leonardo da Vinci and the painting’s theft ignited an insatiable curiosity in Joe to discover the truth. We also learn more about the connections that Joe and Justine made, including with Celestina Peruggia, the thief, Vincenzo Peruggia’s daughter.

Mona Lisa’s thief: Vincenzo Peruggia
Mona Lisa’s thief: Vincenzo Peruggia

This film, while entertaining, is about a lot more than that. It is a historical document where this story lives on. Our conversation also touches on what it was like to produce a film independently, the power of connection and fate, and why the film is the gift that keeps on giving. To hear more about this incredible tale, tune in today!

“In producing this, I knew that unless we were factual and had primary source documents, we were not going to gain the respect of the people in the artworld – art historians, art criminologists – that we were credible people, that we were doing the job that needed to be done to tell the story. That was very much the reason we got access to so many of these people that are usually inaccessible, was because we’d be doing an honest day’s work in good journalism and good documentary making. We were not out to get anyone. That really impressed people. We were there just to tell Peruggia’s story.” — Justine Mestichelli Medeiros [0:35:35.0]

Celestina Peruggia, Vincenzo Peruggia’s daughter.
Celestina Peruggia, Vincenzo Peruggia’s daughter.
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Photographer: Eric TERRADE | Source: Unsplash

Key Points From Our Mona Lisa Episode:

  • How Joe and Justine have been faring during the pandemic and sheltering in place.
  • Hear how Joe managed to make the documentary while working as the head writer for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
  • The timeline of producing the documentary and what sparked Joe’s fascination with the story.
  • Why technology was a large component of making the documentary possible.
  • Joe and Justine’s lifelong love of art and music and the way it brought them together.
  • Their experience of meeting Celestina Peruggia, Vincenzo Peruggia’s daughter.
  • How Joe and Justine created a genuine connection with Celestina.
  • Why it was so important for Joe and Justine to produce something based on evidence.
  • The twofold reason Joe wanted to make the documentary: Entertainment and education.
  • Joe and Justine’s experience with people in Italy and the open way they were received.
  • What motivated Joe and Justine to finish the documentary, even when things got tough.
  • Why the unpredictability of the story is what makes the documentary so engaging.
  • Telling Celestina the truth about her father: Hear what this was like for Joe and Justine.
  • The smoking gun: Finding the records that revealed the real story.
  • Serendipitous encounters that proved Joe and Justine’s mission to them.
  • Some of the unexpected good things that have come from making the documentary.
  • The argument that the theft actually turned the Mona Lisa into the famous painting it is.

“It was destined to be at this time and done this way.” — Justine Mestichelli Medeiros [0:11:50.0]

“The audience is discovering it as we’re discovering it.” — Joe Medeiros [0:47:44.0]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

Movie Poster

“Every couple of weeks, or every couple of months, something about the film resurfaces.” — Joe Medeiros [1:09:20.0]

Scott "Sourdough" Power

Scott “Sourdough” Power is the the creator and executive producer of NotRealArt.com. He is also the co-founder of Crewest Studio a digital media company in Los Angeles dedicated to creative culture and the $2T creative economy.