Spain Returns Stolen Painting and Reliquary to Italy –

Spanish officials returned two centuries-old artifacts Wednesday to Italian ambassadors and police overseeing cultural property.

In a ceremony that took place at the Italian Embassy in Madrid, Spanish police handed over two old masters works produced in Italy, a 16th century gilded wooden reliquary of a saint and an oil painting on canvas by an anonymous Lombard artist titled Luncheon (ca. 1600) that is believed to have been produced sometime in the 17th-century. Both the works had been recovered in recent police operations conducted between Spanish and Italian officials.

The reliquary, a gold bust depicting the biblical Saint Clement and attributed to Aniello Stellato, was stolen in 2019 from a church in the Southern Italian region of Lecce. The painting, believed to have been stolen 20 years ago, depicts an image of three men dining at a table with a cat that is said to be a religious allegory.

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In a speech at the embassy exchange, the Italian ambassador, Riccardo Guariglia , said the recovery was made possible “due to the close collaboration between the two countries.” The director general of Spain’s National Police, Francisco Pardo Piqueras, said the subsequent exchange marks a successful case, “in the fight against crime, and in the protection of cultural heritage.”

The painting first went missing two decades ago when it was taken by an unknown source from a private collection in Bologna.  Interpol located the painting at an unnamed Spanish auction house, where it is unclear if it was consigned to be sold. The Spanish police unit in charge of cultural heritage traced the work back to an antiquities dealer who acquired the work from another seller and whose identity has not been disclosed.

Police located the reliquary bust with an antique dealer in Madrid, later uncovering that it had passed through the hands of several other dealers in Italy and Spain. Officials did not disclose the estimated value of the two works, but said in a statement published via the Spanish National Police’s Twitter that the two artifacts represent, “great historical value.” It is unclear when they will be returned to their original locations.

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