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A Thwarted Art Theft In Italy


A small Italian town in the region of Liguria garnered a lot of attention this past week for an art heist. The painting titled "The Crucifixion" by Flemish artist Pieter Brueghel the Younger was a gift to the small village of Castelnuovo Magra's church from a rich family. It's worth 3 million euros.

FRANCESCO MAGRESE: When you are a not-so-rich community, a community of hard worker people, having something important for the worldwide community, in a way, it's a matter of proudness.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Francesco Magrese (ph). He is a member of the town council. He was shocked to hear about the theft at first.

MAGRESE: It was something that really surprised me. But thank God it was just for a few hours.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It turned out...

MAGRESE: The painting that they were admiring in the church, it was not the real one.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's right. The painting that the thieves stole was a copy. The police got a tip that thieves were planning on stealing "The Crucifixion" and replaced it with a copy last November. And only a few people among the 8,500 residents knew.

MAGRESE: You have to believe me. I was not informed. And even if I am in the town council of the municipality, only the mayor and the priest, the Don Alessandro Chiantaretto, were informed by the police about there were some rumors about the fact that the painting could be stolen.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They kept that secret. But some of the townspeople did guess that something wasn't quite right with the copy. Rumors spread, but they also kept their mouths shut for months as the police laid in wait. The thieves only broke into the church this past week. They still haven't been caught. But what they have is worthless.

Now, this wasn't the first time thieves targeted the Flemish masterpiece. It was actually stolen in 1981 and recovered a few months later. Until the investigation into this latest attempt is finished, the original painting will remain in safekeeping. Magrese believes this latest heist will discourage other would-be thieves.

MAGRESE: They discovered that the police can be smart. And also, the people of the community and the priest can be smart to avoid such things. So I hope this is going to be a lesson.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The other lesson, of course, is that a whole village can actually keep a secret.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACK JEZZRO'S "ARRIVEDERCI ROMA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.