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Thieves Thought They Had a $3.4M Painting. Not at All

Mayor of a small Italian town breaks the news that night
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 16, 2019 2:30 PM CDT
"The Crucifixion" by 17th-century Flemish artist Pieter Brueghel the Younger.   (church of Santa Maria Maddalena)
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(Newser) – This is embarrassing: Thieves who thought they'd stolen a $3.4 million painting really had a fake on their hands, the Guardian reports. The mayor of Castelnuovo Magra, a small Italian town, made the announcement Wednesday. "Rumours were circulating that someone could steal the work, and so the police decided to put it in a safe place, replacing it with a copy and installing some cameras," Daniele Montebello said of The Crucifixion by 17th-century Flemish artist Pieter Brueghel the Younger. "I thank the police but also some of the churchgoers, who noticed that the painting on display wasn’t the original but kept up the secret."

Seems two thieves broke a case in the church of Santa Maria Maddalena on Wednesday and drove off in a Peugeot car, per Artnet. No arrests have been made but authorities tell CNN police are "on their trail." When this last happened in 1981, thieves stole the original, which was recovered a few months later. Couple of data points: A wealthy family gave The Crucifixion to the church just over 100 years ago, per the Local Italy, and it was kept hidden from German soldiers during World War II. And while art thefts have dropped in Italy from 906 in 2011 to 449 in 2016, the nation is still the world's biggest stolen-art market due to its number of works. Nearly half of stolen artifacts in 2016 were taken from churches. (Read more art heist stories.)

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