Seventeen Old Master paintings, worth around $18.3 million, that were stolen from the Museo di Castelvecchio in Verona have been returned to the museum from the Ukraine, and are due to go back on view tomorrow.
The paintings, stolen from the medieval castle in November 2015, included works by Peter Paul Rubens, Andrea Mantegna, Giovanni Francesco Caroto, Hans de Jode, and Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto.
“It’s an important day, because the works are all returning to Verona intact,” said Italian culture minister Dario Franceschini on receiving the works at a ceremony in Kiev, the Guardian reports. “It was an ugly story that became a beautiful story.”
According to the Art Newspaper, Franceschini travelled to the Ukraine with museum staff to personally to bring the paintings back home. The works had been on display at the Bogdan and Varvara Khanenko Museum of Arts since June, after the paintings were seized from thieves en route to Moldova, on an island in the Dniester River.
President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko handed the paintings—thought by authorities to have been stolen to order—back to Franceschini, both parties citing co-operation between the police forces of the two countries as being key in retrieving the artworks.
“The theft of masterpiece paintings is akin to stealing part of the city’s heart,” Poroshenko stated during the ceremony.
The theft was committed by three masked men who entered the museum before it closed, waited for the public and staff to leave for the day, and then took the paintings, leading people to suspect it was an inside job.
Some of the masterpieces, which were recovered in May, were scratched after being cut out of their frames and transported by the thieves but, thankfully, none were seriously damaged.
This past May, 12 people were arrested in connection to the crime in Verona. All 12 were convicted on December 5. The judge handed down sentences of between five and 10 years.
Twin brothers, Pasquale Silvestri Ricciardi and Francesco Silvestri, a security guard at the museum, were given the harshest sentences of 10 and years eight months plus a €3,800 ($3,977) fine, and of 10 years and a €3,000 ($3,139) fine respectively.
Silvestri Ricciardi’s girlfriend, Svetlana Tkachuk and Victor Potinga, both from Moldova, received sentences six and five years each. Two Moldovan nationals are currently on trial in Moldova in connection to the Verona the heist.
The recovered paintings will go on view tomorrow at Verona’s Museo di Castelvecchio for a month, before being restored and reframed.