A Gustav Klimt masterpiece that was stolen in 1997 could have been discovered hidden within the wall of the Italian gallery from the place it was snatched, officers have revealed.
It disappeared from the Ricci Oddi gallery in the northern city of Piacenza in February 1997, with police saying they believed thieves used a fishing line to hook it off the wall and haul it up through an open skylight to the gallery roof where the frame was discarded.
A skilled forgery of the painting, wrapped up and posted to a disgraced politician, was seized by authorities a month later, adding to the mystery.
But the story took another twist this week as a gardener cleared ivy off the gallery’s outside wall.
Discovering a small trapdoor, he opened it to find what appeared to be the painting, inside a plastic rubbish bag.
“This is incredible,” said Jonathan Papamarengh, head of culture in Piacenza town council.
Police took charge of the find and experts will now examine it to check its authenticity.
Mr Papamarengh said it was hard to believe that the original had been hidden in the gallery wall ever since its disappearance, saying the building had been carefully searched after the theft.