Have you ever really considered WHY The Mona Lisa is the most famous artwork in the world? A strong argument could be made that it’s not even DaVinci’s most impressive painting, I would consider The Last Supper to be a far superior work. Also, consider the works of his peers like Michelangelo’s The Sistine Chapel ceiling or his David sculpture.
I mean…The Mona Lisa is nice and all, but the best ever??? I just don’t see it.
And until 1911, the art world agreed with me. Critics in Paris acknowledged The Mona Lisa as a masterpiece of Renaissance art, but it was hardly known outside of France. In fact by August of 1911, no one outside the art world really knew of or about the painting.
All that was about to change, overnight.
On the morning of August 21, 1911, three Italian men walked out of the Louvre without so much as a notice. Which is odd, because they were carrying with them over 200 pounds of wood and glass, covered in a blanket. The three men boarded a train and left the city at approximately 8 am in the morning.
They had just stolen The Mona Lisa. In broad daylight.
And just like that, they were gone. A clean getaway. In fact, no one at the Louvre even noticed the painting had been stolen until 28 hours later!
In a weird quirk of fate, it turns out that the bare spot in the gallery where The Mona Lisa had hung stood bare for 28 hours. And even when the painting was discovered missing, it wasn’t assumed to have been stolen. At the time, the paintings in the Louvre were being photographed. The photographic technology at the time was primitive, so the only way to get a decent photograph of each work was to remove it from the gallery and take it to the roof where better lighting was available.
So 28 hours later, when an artist who was painting in the Louvre finally noticed the empty spot, he brought it to the attention of security. The artist assumed the painting was being photographed on the roof, and asked the security guard to check with the photographers and see when it would be returned.
That’s when the Louvre discovered that the photographers didn’t have it, and that it had been stolen.
This is the point in our story where things begin to get interesting. Media in France and then the world picked up on the heist. Again, at the time, The Mona Lisa wasn’t even the most famous painting in its own gallery, much less in the Louvre. But everyone loves a good scandal, and the French letting 3 men steal from the Louvre in broad daylight had all the makings of one. As media coverage intensified, conspiracy theories about the thieves began to emerge. One popular theory was that American business tycoon JP Morgan had commissioned thieves to steal the painting. Contemporary artist Pablo Picasso was actually considered a suspect in the theft, and was questioned.
A week later, the Louvre reopened and a mob of people flocked to the museum to see a bare spot on the wall where a week earlier, The Mona Lisa had hung. The same painting that none of them cared to see, but now all of them were willing to fight through a mob to see the space where the painting had hung.
Aren’t humans silly creatures sometimes?
Meanwhile, what seemed like a perfect getaway for the three Italian thieves, was quickly falling apart. Their intent had been to take the painting and quickly sell it for a nice profit. But the media coverage of the theft made it almost impossible to sell the painting. The thieves stored it in Paris, until 28 months later, when they attempted to sell it to an art dealer in Italy. The dealer verified it was The Mona Lisa, and contacted the police, who arrested the thieves.
The Mona Lisa was returned to the Louvre, and a mob of people again flocked there to see the return of the painting that was now viewed as being the most famous in the world.
Isn’t that interesting? The fame and notoriety of the painting really has nothing to do with the art itself, but rather with a theft over 100 years ago. Just think, if those thieves had stolen another unknown painting and left The Mona Lisa there, we might today consider that unknown painting to be the greatest piece of art in the world.
There’s a lesson in that for your content. Take a topic that’s boring, and marry it to something interesting, and the boring topic becomes more interesting to your audience. We’ve all seen posts that compare something in business to a hit movie or book. Such as ‘Five Marketing Lessons Everyone Can Learn From Star Wars’, or ‘Ten Business Lessons You Can Steal From Watching Moneyball’. Such posts that connect the business and entertainment worlds are quite common among content creators. Hell I once wrote a post about social media monitoring lessons you could learn from Jason Bourne!
We write these posts because they work! Marrying the boring topic to the interesting one, if done correctly, makes the boring topic more interesting to your audience.
Additionally, we love stories. The Mona Lisa was a mostly overlooked Renaissance painting UNTIL it was stolen. The theft of The Mona Lisa gave it a scandalous backstory that interested people. Think about it, before the painting was stolen, it was unknown outside a few French art collectors. After it was stolen, it became the most famous painting in the world. The theft gave The Mona Lisa an interesting story, and that made the painting more interesting as a result.
BONUS: Want to really make your content more interesting? Tell a story with your content, and make your customer the HERO of that story! One of the best examples I’ve ever seen of doing this correctly is this long-form Pantene commercial from Thailand. It’s amazing.
Note from Mack: This post is actually an issue of my Backstage Pass newsletter that goes out every Friday morning. Want to subscribe so you get this Friday’s issue? Click on the form below and subscribe now. See you this Friday!