A Guercino altarpiece that was stolen from an Italian church in 2014 and recovered in February in Casablanca will now undergo a year of conservation in Rome to reverse the damage. Italian and Moroccan authorities returned the painting, Madonna with the Saints John the Evangelist and Gregory Thaumaturgus (1639), to Italy earlier this month. As the criminal investigation continues in Morocco, the work will be treated by specialists at the Italian government’s Superior Institute for Conservation and Restoration (ISCR).
The large painting, which measures ten by six feet, is believed to have been taken by thieves who hid inside the church of San Vincenzo in Modena after Sunday mass. The alarm system was inactive due to a lack of funding, according to church officials. The work resurfaced in Morocco after three men attempted to sell it for ten million dirham (around £800,000) to a collector, who reported them to local police. Another man arrested in connection with the theft said that it had been rolled up inside a carpet when it was transported from Italy.
“Unfortunately [the painting] is in a very poor state of conservation, having lost 30% of its pigment,” says Maria Grazia Gattari from the cultural superintendency for Bologna and Modena. “It will take a year to treat it and see it in the church of San Vincenzo again.” In cutting the canvas to roll it up, the thieves destroyed the frame, Gattari adds. “Many fragments of paint were lost that way.” While conservators have yet to decide which techniques and products to use, the aim will be to restore “visual harmony”, she says.