Caravaggio Masterpiece Stolen in Notorious Mafia Heist Replaced with Replica

The missing masterpiece gets a “new lease of life” in Palermo.

Caravaggio Nativity with St Francis and St Lawrence (1609) Photo: wga.hu

In 1969, the theft of Caravaggio’s Nativity with St Francis and St Lawrence (1609) from a chapel in Palermo went down as one of the most notorious art heists in history.

The priceless painting was cut from its frame by two thieves in the middle of the night. Although there have been several theories about its disappearance—including a rumor that it was hidden in a pig barn and subsequently burned—the general consensus is that it was targeted by the Sicilian mafia.

Painted in Caravaggio’s trademark chiaroscuro technique, the 17th century masterpiece depicts the newborn Christ lying on a haystack. It was painted in Rome 1609 and was later moved to the Sicilian oratory where it hung for centuries before being stolen in the late 60s never to be seen again.

Now, TV broadcaster Sky has commissioned a replica to replace the old enlarged photograph that has hung in the original painting’s place for 46 years.

The painting was stolen from the Oratorio di San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily. Photo: ilgeniodipalermo.com

The painting was stolen from the Oratorio di San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily.
Photo: via ilgeniodipalermo.com

The broadcaster commissioned the Madrid and Milan based company Factum Arte to create the copy. Factum Arte has a strong reputation for using cutting edge technology to create art impeccable reproductions. The team of specialists, for example, won the contract to replicate the tomb of Tutankhamun.

“We are not bringing back the original, but a facsimile. However it is one that will look very similar to the original,” Roberto Pisoni, head of Sky Arts, told the Guardian.

In a poignant gesture, Italy’s head of state, Sergio Mattarella, will unveil the facsimile during a ceremony on Saturday. The politician’s brother was killed by the mafia in 1980.

The enlarged photograph will be replaced by a replica of the original painting. Photo: ilgeniodipalermo.com

The enlarged photograph will be replaced by a replica of the original painting.
Photo: via ilgeniodipalermo.com

News of the Caravaggio replica has put a renewed focus on the fate of the original, which remains a mystery after all these years. Lynda Albertson chief executive of the Rome-based Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA) dispelled rumors about the work’s possible destruction.

“I am quite confident that no one left a Caravaggio in a barn with pigs,” she said. “You might do that if you are a crazy person, but this was a bit more organized than that,” Albertson told the Guardian. “It is difficult to get these objects back, but often it does happen 30 or 40 years later,” she added.

Sky has produced a documentary about the mystery of the stolen Caravaggio and its reproduction. Mystery of the Lost Caravaggio will be aired in January, 2016.


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