Stolen Old Master paintings head back to Verona

Works by Tintoretto, Mantegna and Rubens were discovered in Ukraine

In time for Christmas, Verona’s Museo del Castelvecchio is preparing to welcome back 17 Old Master paintings this week that were stolen by masked thieves more than a year ago. The works by Tintoretto, Mantegna and Rubens, among others, were discovered near the Moldovan border of Ukraine in May after what the Italian culture ministry calls a “long and complex” investigation coordinated by Italian, Ukrainian and Moldovan authorities.

An Italian delegation including the culture minister, Dario Franceschini; the mayor of Verona, Flavio Tosi, and the commander of Italy’s Carabinieri art crime unit, Fabrizio Parrulli, travelled to Kiev to retrieve the works this morning. They have been displayed since June at the Bogdan and Varvara Khanenko Museum of Arts. At the opening of the exhibition, Rescued Treasures of Italy, the Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko paid tribute to the “friendly and trustful relations between our states”. Tosi gave the president honorary citizenship of Verona and invited all Ukrainian citizens to visit Verona museums free of charge.

Diplomatic bureaucracy also delayed the official handover of the works, according to Italian media reports. It was hoped that Poroshenko would visit Italy and personally return the paintings to Verona around 19 November, the one-year anniversary of the theft. But in the run-up to the country’s failed referendum on constitutional reform on 4 December, no date could be co-ordinated with the former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi. “The crisis of our government led us to find a more direct route,” Tosi told the Corriere del Veneto newspaper.  

Meanwhile, the court of Verona sentenced four of the 12 suspects for the theft to prison terms of five to ten years on 5 December. Francesco Silvestri, the security guard at the museum on the night of the robbery, received ten years in prison and a €3,000 fine. His twin brother Pasquale Silvestri Ricciardi, who provided the link to a gang from Moldova, was given the heaviest sentence—ten years and eight months in prison and a €3,800 fine. Silvestri Ricciardi’s Moldovan girlfriend, Svetlana Tkachuk, and another Moldovan accomplice, Victor Potinga, were sentenced to six and five years in prison respectively. Two other suspects, Denis Damaschin from Italy and Anatolie Burlac from Moldova, received reduced sentences in an earlier plea bargain.