21 August: On this day in history

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21 August 1612

Diego Sarmiento, 1st Count of Gondomar, was appointed Spanish ambassador to London. His plans to arrange a marriage between Prince Charles and the infanta Maria Anna of Spain eventually came to nothing.


21 August 1689

Although William Cleland, their commander, was killed in the fighting, the Cameronian regiment successfully held the Perthshire town of Dunkeld against a much larger Jacobite force.


21 August 1831

Outbreak in Southampton County, Virginia, of Nat Turner’s slave revolt; more than 50 whites were killed in the rebellion. In its suppression over 100 enslaved Africans were killed and 16 more were hanged, including Turner himself.


21 August 1911: Mona Lisa goes missing from the Louvre

Handyman Vincenzo Peruggia walks out with priceless painting wrapped in a smock

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Paris, 21 August 1911. The church bells rang to signal seven o’clock. At the Louvre, the first workers were arriving in their white smocks. Few noticed the short figure of Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian handy- man whom the museum had employed to
make protective glass cases for some of its most celebrated artworks. Peruggia, who had hidden in a museum closet overnight, simply strolled past them, his smock tucked under his arm. Then he went to his lodgings, where he unwrapped the painting hidden beneath the smock and placed it in a trunk. Its name was the Mona Lisa.

And there, for the next two years, Leonardo’s masterpiece stayed. The Louvre authorities had not even noticed its disappear- ance for the first day, only realising it had been stolen when a visitor wondered where it was. The French newspapers went berserk, while tourists queued to view the empty space on the wall. But the days became weeks, the weeks became months, and there was no sign of the Mona Lisa. The police paid a routine visit to Peruggia’s apartment, but they accepted his explanation that he had been working elsewhere that day. And they never bothered to search the trunk.

  • Read more about the Mona Lisa heist

Two years went by, and Peruggia took the train home to Florence. In his own mind he was a patriot who wanted to return the painting to Leonardo’s native land, but he probably also thought he could make a lot of money. When he finally showed it to a local gallery owner, though, the police were swiftly called and he served a brief stretch in prison. The Mona Lisa returned to Paris, but its reputation had been transformed. Beforehand, it had been just another Leonardo painting, barely known to the general public. Now it was the most famous picture in the world. | Written by Dominic Sandbroook


21 August 1940

Leon Trotsky died of his injuries after being struck on the head with an ice pick by Soviet agent Ramon Mercader who attacked him in his study.

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