An expert was to survey a painting some believe to be a lost work of Michelangelo at a church outside of Brussels on Thursday, though you can now consider the visit canceled. Pastor Jan Van Raemdonck—who had told only 20 people about the possible discovery—reported the painting missing from its usual spot near the altar of Zele's Sint-Ludgerus church on Friday. "Two ladies who were putting flowers on the altar noticed the external door was open and the painting was missing" around 9am, four hours after a man was seen near the church, Van Raemdonck tells the Guardian. He suspects a targeted burglary involving several people, given that the painting weighed 220 pounds. The 16th-century work depicts a sleeping baby Jesus in Mary's lap, with Joseph and John the Baptist looking on. Nothing else was taken.
Van Raemdonck says he planned to increase church security if the expert confirmed the painting to be of the master's hand, which would've made it one of just two Michelangelo works in Belgium, per the Telegraph. "I only told some family, friends and the church's council" of its possible $115 million value "and never in public," he says, though he notes information may have been collected from emails. Van Raemdonck reached out to several museums while researching the work, which is almost identical to a 1538 chalk drawing by Michelangelo, held in the collection of the Duke of Portland, per ArtNet News (see it here). Despite the pastor's enthusiasm, the AP talks to art experts who think it's unlikely the painting is actually one by Michelangelo. (Trace the fascinating history of this long-lost painting by Leonardo da Vinci.)