A man in a black shirt carries a stolen painting and a flashlight.

Image: Shutterstock

In one of the largest art heists in recent memory, 17 pieces of art were taken from a Verona Museum, the Castelvecchio, on November 19th. Thieves scampered away with a wide range of works from European artists, including pieces from Mantegna, Rubens, and Tintoretto. The total value of the pieces is estimated to be between $10.7 and $16 million.

Four men got into the museum just as it was closing for the night last Thursday before any alarms had been activated. The night watchman was disarmed and tied up with another employee, said a Verona city official. The thieves used the security guard’s car to escape with the art.

It will not be possible for the thieves to sell the art legitimately, authorities say. “You couldn’t sell [them] on the open market,” says Tomaso Montanari, an art historian. “[This is] certainly the most serious theft in the history of Italian art.” Art expert Vittorio Sgarbi describes the major theft as “one of the gravest” ever.

Some of the pieces taken include Paul Rubens’ famous “Portrait of a Lady.” Rubens is one of the most influential artists ever, a Dutch master painter. Given the wide influence and healthy abundance of Italian cultural contributions, which can be seen in museums, churches, and recorded by orchestras, Italy is becoming an increasingly popular target for art thieves, though there is a high recovery rate of stolen items.

Verona’s mayor, Flavio Tosi, believes the art heist was commissioned. The thieves must have visited the museum recently to gain an understanding of its floor plan and art placement, footage which is currently under review. “Someone told them exactly what to steal and given that [the pieces that were stolen] are very well-know, I imagine they will end up in a private collection,” Tosi says.

“They were real professionals. They didn’t say a word to each other and they struck at exactly the right moment—after the museum had closed to the public but before the alarms had been activated,” the mayor added.

The theft is currently being investigated by the cultural heritage unit of the Carabinieri, Italy’s paramilitary police force.

We hope that the art is discovered and restored to its rightful place soon.