News and Press Releases

U.S. Recovers Fourteenth-century Religious Artwork Stolen from Private Italian Villa

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 23, 2011

Settlement Agreement With Speed Art Museum In Kentucky Will Return Triptych To Italy

The United States entered into a settlement agreement with the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, that provides for a rare panel painting to be sent to Italian officials, who will return the piece to the estate of its rightful owner. The three-panel wooden triptych, which was created in the fourteenth century and depicts the Virgin Mary with Child, was stolen from a private Italian villa in 1971.

The settlement was announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and James T. Hayes, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in New York.

The triptych was stolen from the Villa La Giraffa in Goito, Italy, on October 2, 1971. According to Italian police reports, burglars entered the villa in the early morning hours by cutting through metal bars and a glass window on the first floor of the residence. Fourteen pieces of art, worth $33 million at the time, were stolen, including original oil paintings by the Italian realist painters Giovanni Fattori and Silvestro Lega, and three still-life paintings by artists from the Venetian School.

Acting on information from officials at the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage in Rome, HSI agents tracked the triptych to the Speed Art Museum’s permanent collection. Art consultants were able to positively identify the artwork based on unique markings in old photographs. The Speed Art Museum, which purchased the piece in 1973 from an art gallery in New York, promptly cooperated with law enforcement after federal agents brought the theft to its attention.

The triptych’s central panel depicts the Virgin Mary with Child, surrounded with two patron saints, John the Baptist and Catherine of Alexandria. The right panel depicts the crucifixion of Jesus and the annunciation of the Virgin Mary, and the left panel depicts Saints Anthony Abate and Vescovo. It has been attributed to the fourteenth-century artist Jacopo del Casentino.

“This recovery and settlement is another example of the benefits of cooperation between the United States and international law enforcement,” stated United States Attorney Lynch. “Returning stolen artwork and cultural patrimony remains a priority of this office.” Ms. Lynch thanked the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage for its assistance.

“This one-of-a-kind, 14th century triptych, which has cultural and historical significance, is a beautiful reminder of a time long ago. We are delighted to have played a role in returning it to Italy,” said HSI Special Agent-in-Charge Hayes. “Its return nearly 30 years after it was brazenly stolen demonstrates the success of HSI’s efforts to preserve world treasures.”

The government’s case was handled by Assistant United States Attorney Duncan Levin.



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