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Excerpt from The Last Mona Lisa by Jonathan Santlofer, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Last Mona Lisa

by Jonathan Santlofer

The Last Mona Lisa by Jonathan Santlofer X
The Last Mona Lisa by Jonathan Santlofer
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2021, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2021, 400 pages

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Print Excerpt

"Imitation...is a double murder, for it deprives both copy and original of their primitive existence."
— Madame de Staël

"Nothing is original."
— Jim Jarmusch

August 21, 1911
Paris, France

He has spent the night huddled in the dark, mind burning with Bosch- like scenes from hell, hideous monsters, people writhing in flames. He stares into the gloom, knowing that he will spend the rest of his days in darkness.

We lose the things we do not cherish enough, his one thought, his only thought, as he slips into his workman's tunic, buttons it over his street clothes, and opens the closet door.

The museum is unlit, but he has no trouble making his way down the long hall. He knows the layout perfectly, his intention fueled by guilt. The Winged Victory casts a predatory shadow that causes him to shiver though it is stifling, airless.

Her face appears like a specter, beautiful lips cracked, flesh tinged gray. Somewhere, a baby cries. The crying swells to a sickening shriek. He covers his ears and lets out a sob, twisting one way then the other, searching in the dark for his lost love and his child, whispering their names, walls closing in, room tilting, that empty feeling in his gut expanding until that's all he is: a hollow man. Now he understands that the emptiness he has felt for so long has been a foreshadowing, a preview of the rest of his life, that he has been practicing to be a dead man.

Footsteps?

But it's too early, and a Monday, the museum closed to visitors.

He stops and peers into the dim hallway and sees nothing. He must have imagined it, no longer sure what is real and what is not. Gloved hand cupped around his ear, he listens, but it's quiet, only the sound of his own heavy breathing and the scudding of his heart.

A few more steps, through the arch and into the Cour Visconti Gallery, the high- ceilinged room large enough to hold mural- sized paintings. In the dark, the canvases appear as black rectangles though he can picture them: a landscape by Corot, a famous Delacroix battle scene, Jacques- Louis David's Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon, the dictator clad in outrageous finery, animal- skin cape, crown of ivy, a smug look of victory on his face.

It is then, as he pictures Napoleon, that his fevered brain comes up with the explanation he will give later, the one the newspapers will print: I stole the painting to restore it to its rightful home.

He will be a patriot, a hero, no longer the immigrant, the man without a home.

Steadier now, he heads down another narrower hallway, mind focused and filled with purpose. He will show them he is someone.

In the smaller Salon Carré Gallery, he can just make out the shapes of the paintings, Titian and Correggio and the prize shimmering between them— the lady of the rocks, the vampire who never sleeps, the most famous woman in the world: Mona Lisa.Heart pounding, nerve endings tingling, a dozen thoughts in his brain as he unscrews the small wooden panel from its iron bolts. A man possessed, blind to the shadow of his face reflected, distorted in the glass he himself installed only last week.

It takes all of five minutes.

Then he is moving, the painting clutched to his chest, a shadowy figure darting out one doorway, through another, down a hallway and into a stairwell where he stops to remove the painting's heavy frame and plate glass and leave them behind. Moving again, through a narrow corridor lined with marble sculptures, faster now, panting, sweating, he cuts through an archway until he comes to the side door, the Porte des Arts, all of it exactly as planned, a perfect dream. Until the doorknob does not turn.

He tugs and twists, pulls and jerks, but the knob will not budge, his spinning mind the only thing that is moving.

Excerpted from The Last Mona Lisa by Jonathan Santlofer. Copyright © 2021 by Jonathan Santlofer. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks Landmark. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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