The heist appeared to have gone entirely according to plan. The thieves broke into the display case in an Italian church on Wednesday morning and made off with a €3m painting by the 17th-century Flemish artist Pieter Brueghel the Younger.
But police revealed that night there had been one hitch – the snatched artwork was a copy.
The bona fide version of The Crucifixion, donated to Santa Maria Maddalena church in the small Ligurian town of Castelnuovo Magra more than a century ago, was safely stored away last month as part of a carefully concocted bluff.
Police were aware that the thieves had set their sights on the masterpiece, which was the target of a successful theft in 1981 before being recovered a few months later, and so set up a surveillance system to keep watch until the criminals chose their moment to act.
The town’s mayor, Daniele Montebello, was among the few people privy to the subterfuge, and had to keep up the pretence in the hours after the heist, telling journalists that losing the painting was “a hard blow for the community”.
“Rumours were circulating that someone could steal the work, and so the police decided to put it in a safe place, replacing it with a copy and installing some cameras,” Montebello said on Wednesday night. “I thank the police but also some of the churchgoers, who noticed that the painting on display wasn’t the original but kept up the secret.”
read full story plus image: theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/mar/13/thieves-steal-3m-painting-by-brueghel-the-younger