Italy’s Art Watch

A new manual may help stem the tide of precious artefacts stolen from Milan churches. Penned by Vito Cicale, officer with the national police unit for protecting cultural heritage, the how-to book launched recently at a conference on art safety in churches at the Diocese Museum.
Some 51,260 religious artefacts — including crèche figurines, ex-votos, crucifixes, and reliquaries — have walked out of Italian churches over the last 30 years.

Cicale’s main piece of advice for Milan’s 10,000 churches is simple: take inventory. “If the items have been catalogued, it is much harder to sell them on the black market,” Cicale told daily Corriere della sera. “Parish priests find themselves in a position of managing assets of inestimable value, with little or no training. An inventory can be the best security system against theft.”

The battle may be a long one. Still missing after over 35 years, Caravaggio’s “Nativity with SS. Francis and Lawrence,” stolen from the Oratorio di San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily, is on the FBIs “most wanted” list for filched artworks. It is estimated to be worth $20m. The prize for the most daring thievery goes to those who lifted an entire chapel of a Naples church—complete with altar, marble decorations and statues. It was later found and restored to the
church by the military police.

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