What is the Artnapping


    Kidnapping and redemption of works of art

    “We have stolen your works. If you want them back you will have to pay a ransom ”.
    With these words it is possible to define Art Napping, or the kidnapping of works of art with a ransom request.

    Art has always been in the sights of thieves and robbers: in fact, according to data from the Carabinieri of the Cultural Heritage Protection Unit, the theft of works of art every year produces a turnover of more than 6 and a half billion euros.

    The history of art is marked by the theft of works, from Leonardo da Vinci’s “Gioconda” stolen from the Louvre in 1911 and then recovered years later, or even the famous work “America” ​​by Maurizio Cattelan taken away from Blenheim Palace in 2019, 103 kg of solid gold in the shape of a toilet, never found again.

    If these cases concerned works that, once stolen, wanted to be resold on the art market, here is another phenomenon that has spread, that of Art Napping, that is the kidnapping of works of art with a ransom request involving non only the individual collector but also museums or galleries.

    The phenomenon of Art Napping is well known in the sector, especially the art insurance one, but the general public knows very little about it, while it was recently addressed in the publication “Art & Crime. Theft, plagiarism and misdeeds in the history of art “by experts Stefan Koldehoff and Tobias Timm published by 24 ORE Cultura.


    It is precisely in the first chapter of the book that the authors recount episodes that have occurred over time, which have seen art being a hostage to criminal organizations.

    Among the first episodes, the one that occurred in 1994 against the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, when unknown people stole two precious paintings by William Turner, on loan from the Tate Gallery in London, and one by Caspar David Friedrich.

    The paintings were insured for a total of 62 million German marks, and while the proponents of the theft were quickly caught, the paintings remain untraceable for years.

    Following the robbery, alleged intermediaries who claimed to have access to the paintings showed up on several occasions and after several attempts to recover, the paintings were returned precisely for a millionaire ransom.

    The most recent case occurred at the Glass Museum in Dusseldorf which in 2020, twenty years after the theft, received a ransom request of 200 thousand euros to get back the stolen goods of five works worth over 700 thousand euros.

    The couple of thieves were arrested in a complex operation shortly before being able to collect the ransom.

    Another famous example is that of the theft of Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of a Lady” at the Ricci Oddi Gallery in Piacenza in 1997, for which a ransom of 150 thousand euros was requested which was never paid, while the work was found in January 2020.

    But is it that simple to get a ransom?

    Absolutely not, in fact it rarely happens that institutions or robbed collectors come to terms with criminals, but it can happen. Not infrequently, thefts take place without the criminals really knowing the economic value of the works or their insurance value, effectively leading to requests for much lower ransoms.

    And you, do you know the phenomenon of Art Napping?

    Photo credits: Art Heist (2016) by Maggie Pyle.CC BY-ND 4.0.


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