Police use fake $3.4m artwork to lure and catch thieves

Joann Johnston
March 16, 2019

They made the swap about a month before the theft.

Police in a small Italian town are on the hunt for a group of art thieves after a failed attempt to steal a $3.4 million painting by Flemish master, Pieter Brueghel the Younger.

Hours later, Italian police declared that they had been informed of rumours regarding the plotted robbery, and placed cameras to catch the thieves in the act.

It all happened in the town of Castelnuovo Magra in Liguria, where the painting of the crucifixion is kept in a side alcove of the Santa Maria Maddalena church.

They are now studying the footage after robbers broke in to the church with a crowbar and smashed the artwork's display case with a hammer.

The surveillance footage of the raid is now being carefully studied and investigators are chasing down those responsible.

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"Rumours began to circulate that someone could steal the work and the carabinieri chose to put it in a safe place, replacing it with a copy and installing some surveillance cameras", explained Mayor Daniele Montebello, who helped keep the subterfuge under wraps before and even after the heist.

Police are now looking for two men who were seen removing the fake painting and driving off with it in a Peugeot vehicle, according to La Repubblica. Mayor Daniele Montebello says the law enforcement agency reacted by deciding "to put it in a safe place, replacing it with a copy and installing some cameras".

The 26in by 17in canvas is a copy of a work by his father.

It's at least the third close call for The Crucifixion since it was donated to the church by a wealthy family just over a century ago. Thieves believe they got what they were looking for.

Protecting valuable artwork displayed in churches poses a very real problem to the Italian carabinieri as they are much more hard to secure than a gallery or museum.

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