Stolen art: more than half a million works recovered in 2020

    Stolen art: more than half a million works recovered in 2020

    Trafficking in stolen art continues even in pandemic: over half a million works were recovered in 2020.

    Art dealers were unfazed by the pandemic, taking advantage of the lockdown that shut down museums, galleries and cultural centers to carry out theft and forgery.

    According to the dossier “Operational Activity 2020” of the specialized unit of the Weaponry, 501,574 are the art assets that the Command of the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage recovered in 2020. 

    Among these goods, the “thieves of beauty” raided antiques, archives and books (483,978); followed by archaeological, paleontological and numismatic finds from clandestine excavations (17,596)

    In addition, 1,547 art forgeries were found which, had they been placed on the market and sold, would have resulted in an illicit turnover of over 415 million euros. 

    Thanks to the interventions and searches of the Blue Helmets of Culture, thefts decreased by 17.6% (287 compared to 345 in 2019).

    Here are some figures: libraries registered a 50% decrease, from 12 to 6; places of worship, such as churches and monasteries, reduced by 17%, from 135 to 112 stolen works; -21.4% instead for museums that from 14 stolen works in 2019 arrive at 11. On the other hand, the figure for archives remains unchanged: 8 exactly as in 2019.

    2020 was also the year of much-needed rediscoveries and finds: here are a few examples!

    • The splendid Head of a Roman female divinity, dating back to the first century AD and stolen in 1977 from the Roman Forum, has been identified following international investigations.
    • The work “Ritratto di Signora” (Portrait of a Lady) by Gustave Klimt was accidentally found a few months ago in a cavity of the Ricci Oddi Gallery in Piacenza, after having been lost for over twenty years.
    • An ancient painting by Cimabue found in the Parisian countryside which, after being certified as authentic, was sold for 24 million euros.

    During the 2020s, with cultural venues closed and markets at a standstill, illicit trafficking shifted primarily abroad, requiring cooperation between foreign police forces, Europol and Interpol to successfully find and repatriate many stolen works of art.

    Among the counterfeited works, alongside fakes by Balla, Schifano, Warhol and De Chirico, we also find van Gogh and the seizure of 134 apocryphal works by Silvano Campeggi, author of the most important posters in the history of cinema, such as “Gone with the Wind” and “Ben Hur”.

    Thanks to the use of increasingly sophisticated technologies to support the research and protection of works of art, the risk of the circulation of reproductions and forgeries illegally placed on the market is destined to decrease considerably in the near future.

    “The advent of new technologies, which we are working on, will allow us to achieve better and better results,” promises General Roberto Riccardi, commander of the Tpc. 

    Among these, the Art Rights platform for the management and certification of works of art that, thanks to blockchain technology, allows to create a real Passport of the Work of Art to protect the authenticity of the work for Artists, Collectors and Operators in the sector.

    Photo Credits: La Domenica del Corriere magazine, published September 1911. Illustration: Achille Beltrame (1871-1945); photo: DeAgostini / Getty Images

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