Published: Sat, March 16, 2019

Thieves Steal Fake Painting

Thieves Steal Fake Painting

In 1981, thieves were successful in stealing "The Crucifixion" but only briefly as they were caught just a few months later.

A small Italian church got the last laugh on a group of art thieves who stole a Flemish master's painting of the crucifixion only to learn cops had swapped out the original for a fake after being tipped off that a heist was in the works.

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.

Police in Castelnuovo Magra, a small town in Liguria, said they had uncovered a plot to steal the painting from Santa Maria Maddalena church - and so set a trap a month ago, according to Italian media.

They sped off in a white Peugeot with the painting - a depiction of the Crucifixion - at lunchtime on Wednesday.

Santa Maria Maddalena the church in Castelnuovo Magra where the painting is kept
Santa Maria Maddalena the church in Castelnuovo Magra where the painting is kept

"Rumours began to circulate that someone could steal the work and the carabinieri made a decision 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.

What the thieves had actually stolen was a worthless replica of the Flemish masterpiece that had been installed over a month ago.

He also thanked members of the church for holding their peace - "because some faithful had noticed that the one on display was not the original, but did not reveal the secret".

Pieter Bruegel the Younger was the son of another Flemish artist, Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

The painting had previously been hidden during WWII to protect it from German soldiers, and had been donated to the church by a wealthy family. The scene is painted in oil on oak panels and is a copy of Brueghel's famous father's work, though, no version of the original has survived.

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