February 16, 2017

Recovered: Here's lookin' at you kid. Stolen in Italy and found in Casablanca.

Madonna with Saints John the Evangelist
and Gregory Healer" (1639)
oil on canvas 293x184.5 cm

Stolen in Modena, Italy on August 10-11, 2014 from the Church of San Vincenzo, the painting "Madonna with Saints John the Evangelist and Gregory Healer" by Guercino has been recovered in Morocco.*

At the time of the theft, if was believed that the art thief had hidden himself away inside the church until everyone had departed after the afternoon Sunday mass. The parish priest of San Vincenzo noticed something was afoot when he passed by the church the following morning and came across the primary door of the church open, with no signs of forced entry. This door was not equipped with an external mechanism for opening so either the thief waited inside after the mass had concluded or he had gained entry through a secondary door at the rear of the church.

When the theft was announced to the public Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi criticised the Curia's for its lack of security, especially in light of the numerous petty thefts which had plagued nearby churches in the city recently.  He estimated that the stolen painting, by the an Italian Baroque painter Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, best known as Guercino, or Il Guercino, could be worth as much as five to six million euros, though he stated clearly that there was no market for stolen, easily identifiable religious works of art.  

Replica of "Madonna with Saints John the Evangelist and Gregory Healer"
inside the Church of San Vincenzo

The city of Modena and the church's priest and patrons were heartbroken. Not only had their painting been in the church since it was constructed, but the church itself stood near the city's courthouse, which is guarded round the clock. How was it that no one noticed anyone exiting the church with a painting under their arm?

This no one could say. 

Flash forward to February 2017 where three fences offer the historic painting to a wealthy businessman in Casablanca, Morocco for a cool 10 million dirhams (€940,000). Recognizing Guercino's masterpiece, the man declined and alerted the police judiciaire du Hay Hassani de Casablanca who then arrested the three suspects. One of the three, possibly the original thief, was a Moroccan immigrant who had lived in Italy for a considerable period of time.  

Here's lookin' at you police judiciaire du Hay Hassani. (**) Bogart, 'Casablanca'

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Update: * The procedure for restitution is now under way between the Moroccan authorities and the Italian Embassy in Morocco.

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