Museums Conservation Italy

Better late than never

Pisa museum recovers works it didn't know were missing for more than a decade

The new director of the Museo Nazionale di San Matteo in Pisa alerted the carabinieri of the paintings' disappearance in December

The art crime unit of the Italian police has recovered ten Old Master paintings worth €4m that went missing from the Museo Nazionale di San Matteo in Pisa. The works, most dating to the 16th century, never made it back to the museum after they were sent for restoration more than a decade ago, but their absence was only noticed last year.

An inventory in early 2013 revealed that 12 out of 17 oil paintings sent to a conservator in nearby Lucca in May 2002 were never returned. The museum’s new director, Dario Matteoni, alerted the carabinieri of their disappearance in December.

According to an official statement released by the police on Friday, the conservator, who was accredited by the superintendency of Pisa, sold six of the paintings on to dealers who were unaware of their provenance. He can no longer be prosecuted under Italian law, however, since the ten-year statute of limitation passed without the loss of the works being reported.

Isabella Lapi, the regional director of the Italian culture ministry, told La Stampa that the case was “totally anomalous”. “Restorations today are contracted almost exclusively within museums or to laboratories directly linked to the public system,” she said.

The recovered paintings, including Madonna in Sorrow by the Flemish artist Quentin Metsys that had been sold at auction for €2.8m, are to go on display at the museum this week. Investigators have started procedures to recover the two outstanding works from a private collector in France.

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