Art imitates life: Sherlock & The Mona Lisa

March 21, 2011

The Mona Lisa is such a famous work that tracking its appearances in my own journey has not been too difficult. First was the gaudy telephone my mother received as a house warming gift. Aged five at the time, I was told the woman on the dial was 'the most famous painting in the world'.

As the name of this blog attests, myself and many other scientifically minded persons drew great inspiration from the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. These were brought to life in the fantastic dramatisations by Granada UK, featuring Jeremy Brett as Holmes.

Recent posts at ArtInfo by art crime specialist Noah Charney focused on the false report of a criminal mastermind behind the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa by Vincenzo Peruggia. It was reading these posts that jogged my memory about a fantastic treat for art and mystery fans that was embedded into the dramatisation of The Final Problem - the famous story where Holmes confronts his nemesis Professor Moriarty.  The TV adaptation contained a segment that was not in the original story, but would delight anyone with an interest in art history and art crime. Inspired by the events of the real life heist,  Holmes is employed by the French Government and The Louvre to recover the work.

If you are intrigued, please watch the clip below. Brett's performance is widely revered as the definitive Holmes, with Eric Porter as the gruff Professor Moriarty. A special mention must be made of John Hawkesworth, who is credited with dramatising the Conan Doyle story for this episode. 

There are many great art historical and scientific details mixed in. It is interesting to note one of the potential buyers depicted is an allusion to American financier and avid art collector J.P. Morgan. The way Brett saunters past the nude model without even a glance is so typically Holmesian - a wonderful touch. I also loved the copyist who boasts that he can mimic Leonardo's craquelure, a point I was discussing with several art historians recently in my very own exciting investigation. Enjoy the clip!


Dr. F said...


I thought I'd seen all of the Holmes episodes but not this one. I've put it on my Nexflix queue.


Unknown said...

It's a great rendition of the famous story, and the scene at the waterfall is well done. This series was shot using the original drawings that accompanied the stories as templates.

For those that have not read the original story, or do not have a Sherlockian compendium handy, here is The Final Problem online. You will note, the extent to which the original story covers this subject is essentially one line!

"...I saw in the papers that he had been engaged by the French government upon a matter of supreme importance..."

Hence, we must thank Mr Hawkesworth and co. for the little treat above!


Alberti's Window said...

What a fun clip! I've seen some of the Holmes episodes, but not this one.

Do you get episodes of "White Collar" where you are? Someone recently introduced me to the series, which revolves around art crime and forgery. Of course, the show is not as classic as this Holmes episode, but it's quite fun.

Benjamin (Ben) said...

Fun indeed!

The first series of the Beeb's Sherlock also has an episode involving art (Vermeer) & connoisseurship. I think it's the season finale.

Carlo Ginsburg writes interestingly on the historical connections between detective work and connoisseurship in his "Morelli, Freud and Sherlock Holmes: Clues and Scientific Method." There's a version of this online:


Unknown said...

Cheers for the comments! Thanks for the tips and extra resources M and Ben - I was not aware of that Ginsburg piece Ben - thanks! Looks like exactly my type of thing. It seems like I am not alone in associating a Sherlockian approach to art historical inquiry!


Anonymous said...

There is a new filmabout the Mona Lisa theft: The Missing piece: The Truth About the Man Who Stole the Mona Lisa. Go to

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