Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Global News Blog

Talk on stolen Caravaggio resurfaces

A new book on Palermo's stolen Caravaggio reignites an old debate on art, the Mafia, and the inefficiency of Italian authorities.

By Alberto MucciGuest blogger / July 16, 2012


It’s a question experts, academics, or simply art aficionados have been asking themselves for the last 40 years: Where is Caravaggio's "Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence?" After decades of investigation still nobody knows.

Skip to next paragraph

Recent posts

The only certainty Italian authorities have, is that the late Caravaggio masterpiece was stolen on the night of October 17, 1969. It had been resting untouched for 360 years in the Church of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily. Valued at around $30 million, it tops the police's most wanted art object list.

After a time of relative silence the debate has sprung up again. Luca Scarlini, author of the recently published "The Stolen Caravaggio: Myth and story of a robbery" went deep to untangle the story, read piles of police proceedings, and talked to a plethora of experts to make sense of the scattered information that "repentant" Mafiosi have given authorities over the decades.

Confessions greatly differ from one another. In 2008, former Mafia leader Gaspare Spatuzza told the Palermo police that the painting, temporarily hid in a barn, was damaged by rats and afterwards burned. Another Cosa Nostra boss, Salvatore Cancemi, confessed that every time the heads of the Mafia gather, Caravaggio's “Nativity” is showcased so that the bosses can remind themselves of their power in relation to that of the Italian state.

"None of these claims have ever been demonstrated," says Vincenzo Bilardello, art history professor at Sapienza University in Rome. Mr. Scarlini agrees. "All this confusion is wanted by the Mafia. It's called a 'trial trick.’ Every time a Mafioso stands on trial he has the possibility to play the Caravaggio card and try to strike a deal with the police.”

Despite its grim history the story could end on a positive note. After 10 years most crimes cease to be punishable, according to Italian law, rendering the painting's rediscovery more likely since the 1980s. "It's possible ‘The Nativity’ will show up somewhere unexpected," the author says. "It happened last April with a Cezanne painting, too, so who says it can't happen again?"

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Latin America bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story

  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer


Doing Good


What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!