Bad Thieves Ensnared by The Crucifixion

April 12, 2019

The Crucifixion, by Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564-1636) was once again the target of professional burglars in March 2019, in the middle of Lent: but the outcome of this theft illustrated the adage “to be hoisted on one’s own petard.”

The Crucifixion is a mural attributed to Pieter Brueghel the Younger, master of the Flemish Renaissance. Painted on a wooden panel, the masterpiece is the pride of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene Castelnuovo Magra, in the Italian province of La Spezia. Brueghel the Younger tried essentially to reproduce his father's paintings, many of which have disappeared. This is the case of this famous Crucifixion, which gives it more value.

The painting depicts a Nordic landscape, where a scene from everyday life of the early 17th century takes place. The atypical presence of a fourth cross on Calvary immediately strikes the eye of the spectator: specialists see it as the symbol of the submission of the Flemish people to Spain(!). But it could simply be an invitation to the spectator to become a disciple of Christ, to pick up his own cross and follow Him.

Hidden during the German occupation of the Second World War, the painting was stolen in 1981, before reappearing a few months later.

So, when a persistent rumor spread, suggesting a new attempt to steal it in early 2019, the Carabinieri decided to play a trick to the potential thieves, as told in detail in the March 13, 2019, edition of La Repubblica.

The military decided to store the masterpiece in a safe place and replace it with a fake, around which several surveillance cameras had been discreetly installed. On March 13, according to expectations, a team of burglars stole the false picture, under the watchful eye of digital cameras.

From that point forward, the investigation continues with discretion, because the police forces are taking all the necessary time to dismantle the network of burglars, as well as all its ramifications.