Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Scholar Spots Stolen Speed Triptych !!

Missing Italian medieval painting found after 40 years


NEW YORK, May 23 (Reuters) - A 14th-century Italian painting is headed back to its native land, 40 years after it was stolen from its rightful owners.

The artwork, a wooden triptych, was part of $33 million in loot taken from a private villa in Goito, Italy, during a brazen burglary in 1971, authorities said Monday. The painting depicts the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus and measures approximately 1.6 feet by 1.9 feet.

According to the U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn, which aided Homeland Security agents in investigating the case, burglars cut through metal bars and a glass window in the dead of night to steal the painting from the villa. The theft netted several other pieces of art as well, including paintings by the Italian realists Giovanni Fattori and Silvestro Lega.

The triptych -- attributed to a Goito artist, Jacopo del Casentino, according to prosecutors -- eventually made its way to Newhouse Galleries, an art gallery on New York's Upper East Side. In 1973, the J.B. Speed Art Museum in Lexington, Ky., purchased the painting from Newhouse for $38,000, apparently without realizing it was stolen, authorities said.

Officials at the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage in Rome provided information that led Homeland Security investigators to Lexington, where art consultants confirmed the painting was the missing triptych.

J.B. Speed's director, Charles Venable, said an Italian scholar saw a photograph of the artwork and recognized it from an old black-and-white photo of the painting.

Under a settlement between the U.S. Attorney's Office and the museum, the artwork will be returned to the Cultural Heritage Office of Mantova, Italy, which will determine who is now the rightful owner. The previous owner, Lidia Bianchi Perdomini, who owned the Villa La Giraffa, from which the painting was taken, has since died.


The settlement makes it clear there is no evidence the museum knew the artwork was stolen until the investigation revealed it.

Less clear is how Newhouse Galleries came into possession of the painting, though Venable said it was likely that the arthouse bought it unwittingly. Attempts to reach the gallery's owner on Monday were unsuccessful.

The painting won't head to Italy immediately, Venable said. The museum hopes to mount an exhibition next month, complete with the triptych's long backstory.

"Works of art are kind of like people," he said. "They have all kinds of histories."

Venable said it is difficult to say what the painting is worth today, in part because he is not convinced that it is the work of del Casentino.

The case is In re: Italian wooden triptych depicting Madonna with Child, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, No. 2010-v-03119.

For the U.S. Attorney: Assistant U.S. Attorney Duncan Levin

For the museum: Todd Lowe, chairman

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