UNESCO Exhibits Works Recovered by Italy

1. Giovanni Francesco Barbieri,
known as Guercino (1591-1666)
Saint John the Baptist, 1640-1642
Oil on Canvas - 63 x 50 cm
Roma, Musei Capitolini
Photo : Musei Capitolini

19/6/12 - Art thefts - Italy - UNESCO headquarters in Paris is currently holding an exhibition of about thirty art works recovered by the Italian carabinieri which have been returned to museums on the peninsula.
The most important objects are undoubtedly the vases found in clandestine archeological digs. There are some fifteen very beautiful pieces, not however covered by The Art Tribune’s time range.

Visitors will also see a few paintings, including a Guercino and a Ludovico Carracci which had been stolen in 1999 in Rome during the renovations at the Capitoline Museums. This is not really breaking news of course since they had been recovered less than a year later.
However, two small panels by Bernardino Fungai, Saint Sebastian and Saint Catherine of Sienna are part of a more important ensemble, predella and pilasters surrounding a large altarpiece, stolen in 1994 in the Chiusi cathedral. Four elements were found in 1995 and these two paintings resurfaced last year. There are still four figures of saints and four predella scenes which have not been recovered as yet.

2. Bernardino Fungai (1460-1516)
Saint Sebastian, circa 1505-1510
Tempera on Panel - 52 x 15 cm
Chiusi, cattedrale di San Secondiano
Photo : Reserved Rights

3. Bernardino Fungai (1460-1516)
Saint Catherine of Sienna, circa 1505-1510
Tempera on Panel - 52 x 15 cm
Chiusi, cattedrale di San Secondiano
Photo : Droits Réservés

The catalogue states, in the words of Irina Bokova, director general of UNESCO, that "with the development of internet, this global phenomenon [of illicit trafficking] has reached unprecedentedly alarming levels." This is a curious observation since internet allows above all to pinpoint these thefts with amazing speed, internationally, and makes it more difficult to dispose of them on the market. However, much remains to be done in order to expose them more extensively through the media. For example, it is difficult to understand why the Fungai panels stolen in Chiusi are not listed in the Interpol database ! If the images of the works stolen in museums or churches were systematically and immediately posted on the net, they would become impossible to sell and this would eventually discourage thefts.

We would like to point out finally that Italy, who is right in wishing to recover with great determination art works stolen or looted on its soil, would benefit in showing the example in this field, notably as concerns works stolen from Jewish families during the war (see news item of 9/2/12).

Collectif, Recovered Treasures. Coopération internationale pour la lutte contre le trafic illicite des biens culturels : les succès des Carabiniers italiens, 2012, Sillabe, 96 p., 19 €. ISBN : 9788883476457.

Visitor Information : Exhibition from 20 June to 6 July 2012, UNESCO headquarters, 7 place Fontenoy, 75352 Paris. Tel : 00 33 (0)1 45 68 16 60. Open every day from 10 am to 6 pm. Free admission with identification.

Online Italian Database of Beni culturali illecitamente sottratti

Didier Rykner, mercredi 20 juin 2012

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