Thieves made off with 17 centuries-old paintings in one of the worst art thefts in Italian history

Wikimedia CommonsThe Museo Civico di Castelvecchio, in Verona

One of the worst art heists in recent Italian history took place on November 19, when thieves made off with 17 Renaissance-era works by a range of European artists.

As The Art Newspaper reports, citing Italy’s Repubblica newspaper, three armed men entered Verona’s Museo Civico di Castelvecchio on the night of November 19, disarmed the museum’s security system, neutralized a single security guard, and then left with 17 paintings worth as much as $US16 million in total. They then used the security guard’s car as a getaway vehicle.

Repubblica’s report includes a slideshow of some of the paintings stolen, a haul which includes a painting of King Solomon’s court by Tintoretto, a 16th century artist considered one of the greatest painters of the Italian Renaissance, and a portrait by the Dutch master Peter Paul Rubens.

As The Telegraph reports, experts are describing the burglary as one of the most serious art thefts in Italian history. According to The Art Newspaper, Verona mayor Flavio Tosi said he believed the heist was “specially commissioned by someone because the thieves were well timed, well organised and knew what they wanted.”

Italy’s cultural riches, which are spread throughout museums, churches, and private residences in just about every corner of the country, provide art thieves with ample targets. According to Art News, art theft in the country dropped by 25% between 2012 and 2013, although theft of art objects from churches remained a persistent problem. Several developments, including the development an app that lets Italian art traders determine whether works are stolen, has resulted in a high recovery rate for stolen Italian works, according to Art News.

But the organisation and specificity of the Verona heist raises the possibility that a sophisticated crime-for-profit network could be involved.

They would hardly be the world’s only criminal elements profiting off of the theft of cultural heritage: trade in looted antiquities is believed to be one of ISIS’s major sources of income.

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