Thefts News Sweden

Swedish castle recovers 16th-century ‘astronomical computer’

The valuable astrolabe is believed to have been among the many objects stolen by the “Royal Library man” from Swedish museums

Christopher Marinello, a lawyer who works closely with the ALR, holding the 16th-century astrolabe returned to Skokloster Castle

The Art Loss Register (ALR), which runs a database of stolen objects, has recovered a 16th-century astrolabe valued at over $400,000 that was stolen from Sweden’s baroque Skokloster Castle museum in 1999.

The astrolabe, used to tell time and map celestial objects, is believed to have been stolen by Anders Burius, the former head of the rare books department at Sweden’s Kungliga Biblioteket (Royal Library) who admitted to stealing millions of dollars worth of rare books and manuscripts from Swedish museums between 1986 and 2004. He was arrested in 2004 and committed suicide soon after.

The astrolabe was located through an Italian collector, who was researching the object on ALR’s database before selling it in London. Christopher Marinello, a lawyer who works closely with the ALR, expects the item to be back in the state-run Skokloster Castle by the end of this week.

The museum’s curator, Bengt Kylsberg, says “this instrument is an important part of our collection and [had] been at Skokloster Castle for more than 300 years”. Marinello says “while a 16th-century astrolabe may not be as ‘sexy’ as a major Picasso or Matisse, for a geek like me, recovering such an important planispheric and horological instrument is just as gratifying.”

Julian Radcliffe, ALR’s founding chairman, says the company has been responsible for “a number of recoveries for Swedish organisations” in the past 12 months. Marinello was also instrumental in recovering Matisse’s Le Jardin, 1920, to Sweden’s Musuem of Modern Art at the beginning of this year; the painting was stolen in 1987.

Earlier this summer, the US returned two volumes that had also been stolen by Burius, known as the “Royal Library man”, to the National Library of Sweden. A Baltimore book dealer, who did not know the manuscripts had been stolen, acquired them through the German auction house Ketterer Kunst in 1998. The dealer had sold the books, but he tracked them down after finding out that they had been stolen, and bought them back so they could be returned to the library.

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