A 31-year-old woman in Hamburg, Germany, filed a police report about herself for the theft of a Pieter Aertsen oil painting from a Bielefeld museum, authorities announced on Wednesday.
Normally, this would signal an unusually neat end to a case of art theft—except for the fact that the alleged thief misplaced the painting she said she stole.
On April 27, a still-unidentified woman removed the 16th-century painting Portrait of a Young Woman from its frame during broad daylight, tucked it into a large folder, and walked out of the Museum Huelsmann in Bielefeld. According to dpa, she claims to have lost the work the evening of the crime.
Aertsen, often called Lange Piet because of his height, was a Dutch painter who worked in the Northern Mannerist style. He’s credited with the invention of the monumental genre painting, a mix of still-life and genre painting that often incorporated biblical aspects.
Aertsen liked to subvert traditional hierarchies of subject matter in painting. In contrast to his contemporaries, who framed action around religious imagery, Aertsen cheekily foregrounded everyday objects and passersby. A slab of meat dominates the frame of his Christ in the House of Mary and Martha (1552), while Jesus and his company confer far in the background. He was lauded in particular his exuberant market scenes, like 1567’s Market Woman with Vegetable Stall, which depicts a bounty of produce.
Authorities said an acquaintance of the Hamburg woman searched her apartment for the painting without success. The suspect has not confessed a motive for the brazen crime, and the search for the artwork continues.