Rome: Nearly 50 years after it vanished, Italy has opened a fresh investigation into the theft of a Caravaggio that would today be worth £15 million ($23 million).
A mafia turncoat has come forward with information that could lead to the recovery of the painting, entitled Nativity with San Lorenzo and San Francesco, which depicts Mary gazing lovingly at the newborn baby Jesus.
It hung in the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily, until it was expertly cut from its frame on a stormy night in October 1969 by unidentified thieves using razor blades or box-cutters. The theft is listed by the FBI as number two on its list of the world’s top 10 art crimes.
For years, it was thought that the Nativity might have been destroyed – possibly eaten by rats and mice after being stashed in a barn in the Sicilian countryside. Another theory claimed the altarpiece was used as a bedside mat by Salvatore “Toto” Riina, the murderous head of Cosa Nostra, who died last year aged 87.
The National Anti-Mafia Commission says it has gleaned new information from the “pentito”, or turncoat, that suggests that the painting was stolen, possibly with the help of art experts, and ended up in the hands of Stefano Bontade and Gaetano Badalamenti, two Cosa Nostra bosses.