Thieves steal fake Bruegel masterpiece in police sting

Lawrence Kim
March 15, 2019

Their target? The Crucifixion by Pieter Brueghel the Younger - a 17th-century depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

On Wednesday, the thieves broke into the display case containing the painting with a hammer and made off with the painting by vehicle - seemingly unaware that their loot was anything but the real deal.

The town's mayor, Daniele Montebello, who police had informed about the operation, played along with the deception after the robbery, telling the Italian news agency ANSA: "It is a work of inestimable value, a hard blow for our community".

What the thieves had actually stolen was a worthless replica of the Flemish masterpiece that had been installed over a month ago.

Police are now looking for two men who were seen removing the fake painting and driving off with it in a Peugeot vehicle, according to La Repubblica.

"We were hearing rumours that someone wanted to steal it, so the Carabinieri (Italy's paramilitary police force) brought in the fake and installed security cameras".

The surveillance footage of the raid is now being carefully studied and investigators are chasing down those responsible.

But by that evening he dropped the pretence, thanking the police and churchgoers for helping to lay the trap: "Some members of the congregation noticed that the painting on display was not the original, but they didn't give away the secret", Montebello said.

Painted in oil on five oak panels, the scene is a copy by Brueghel the Younger of one of his famous father's works, now lost.

The original Bruegel, which measures 43cm by 67cm, was stolen from the church almost 40 years ago but later recovered after being found in the home of a convicted criminal who had just been released from jail.

During World War Two, the painting was hidden from the Nazis who famously stole hundreds of thousands of paintings during the conflict.

The Crucifixion is worth an estimated $3.3 million. In 1981, thieves were successful in stealing The Crucifixion but only briefly as they were caught just a few months later.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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