‘Ultra-Specialized’ Gang Pulls Off $1 Million Heist at Italian Museum

Nearly 50 treasures including jewels and gold statues were brazenly stolen.

Installation of works by Italian sculptor Umberto Mastroianni at Museo d'Annunzio Segreto at the Vittoriale degli Italiani in northern Italy. Image courtesy of Vittoriale degli Italiani.

A horde of jewelry and gold statues estimated to be worth €1.2 million ($1.3 million) was stolen last week from the Museo d’Annunzio Segreto at the Vittoriale degli Italiani, an historic estate by Lake Garda in northern Italy. A gang of thieves broke into the museum at around 5:30 a.m on March 6 and stole all but one of the exhibits from a show dedicated to the 20th century Italian sculptor Umberto Mastroianni.

“What happened is an unprecedented damage to Mastroianni’s artistic legacy and damage to the Italian art of gold artifacts,” said Paola Molinengo Sosta, the heir of Mastroianni’s widow and president of Authentication and Cataloguing at the Center for the Study of Works by Umberto Mastroianni.

The artworks had all belonged to her and it was the first time such a large portion of the collection was exhibited. The only surviving piece was Uomo/Donna (1960-61). At a press conference, concern was expressed that the other items may already have been melted down for their gold.

The thieves entered the museum, which sits within an amphitheatre on the Vittorio degli Italiani estate, via a bathroom in one of the dressing rooms. The sink was uprooted using a sledgehammer, leaving a hole in the wall that opened into the museum. Once inside, the perpetrators used the sledgehammer to break the glass cases the held Mastroianni’s treasures.

Some pieces of gold art in a display case

Installation of works by Italian sculptor Umberto Mastroianni at Museo d’Annunzio Segreto at the Vittoriale degli Italiani in northern Italy. Image courtesy of Vittoriale degli Italiani.

When the managers of the Vittoriale arrived to open the exhibition the next morning, they found the exhibition almost empty. In total, 48 pieces were plundered from the museum, including brooches, rings, and jewels produced between the 1950s and 1990s. Nothing from the permanent collection was taken, including very valuable Buccellati jewels showcased nearby.

The heist is being investigated by Italy’s Carabinieri of the Command for the Protection of Cultural Property, one of the world’s best units for protecting art and other cultural heritage. They are combing through surveillance footage around the estate and nearby town of Gardone Riviera.

“To their credit, the thieves demonstrated great professionalism,” the Vittoriale degli Italiani’s president Giordano Bruno Guerri admitted, according to Garda Post. “Our alarm systems are very extensive and already of the highest level, we were evidently hit by an ultra-specialized gang.”

The Museo d’Annunzio Segreto was founded in 2010. It presents private items like clothes, archival documents, and furniture once owned by the Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio whose fascist ideals were an influence on Mussolini.

The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions, including “Like A Hot And Fluid Gold, The Golds of Umberto Mastroianni,” which opened on December 30, 2023 and was due to close on March 8, just two days after the theft took place. In its place, the museum has just opened a new exhibition dedicated to the 20th century Futurist artist Umberto Boccioni, which features 12 works recently discovered by curator Alberto Dambruoso and therefore never before seen in public.

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