Have You Seen This Art? Austrian Officials Are Searching for 21 Works That a Priest May Have Swiped From a Benedictine Abbey
Authorities have released ads with images of the missing works.
A benedictine abbey in Kremsmünster, Austria, a town of just over 6,000 people, has been shaken from its relative calm as its clergy deals with an ongoing investigation into a slew of historic missing cultural property.
The theft, which was first made public last May and remains unresolved, reappeared in the headlines last week when the Austria public prosecutor’s office and the federal criminal police office circulated images of 21 pieces from the abbey’s collection that remain missing, including paintings and antiquities.
During a routine inventory check last May, the abbey’s custodian of the collection found that 50 objects had disappeared (three 17th-century firearms and 47 paintings).
According to public prosecutor Andreas Pechatschek, the primary suspect in the case is a former priest at the monastery, who has been under investigation since August 2020. Austrian media reports say he cared for the art collection between 1997 and 2017, but that he was not permitted to sell—or even lend—the trove, which consists of around 2,200 paintings, 70 icons, 2,000 copper engravings, as well as other early medieval antiquities. The abbey dates back to the year 777.
The prosecutor’s office tells Artnet News that 20 objects have been retrieved from dealers and private collections in Austria since the theft came to light. The police report values the full slate of stolen artworks and antiques at €300,000 ($360,780). Objects still at large include a work by Baroque painter Philipp Peter Roos, a small canvas by Johann Wilhelm Bauer, and an antique hourglass.
According to a report in Kronen Zeitung, the previous custodian is suspected of having sold the pieces to cover the cost of restoring others.
This is not the first known theft at the medieval abbey. Its oldest painting, The Last Supper, by the artist Meister von Raigern and dated to around 1415, went missing in 2006. That same year, a book of astronomical drawings worth about €30,000 that was on loan to the abbey went missing during an exhibition there. The Kronen Zeitung reported at the time that the security cameras were defective—and the book had been replaced by a fake during the show’s run.
On January 26, the Austria authorities put out wanted ads for the works that remain missing. See some of the images below—and get in touch if you have spotted them in the wild.
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