Seized a Rubens in Palazzo Ducale: «It was exported illegally». Four suspects

Of Julia Mietta

The Carabinieri blitz in the exhibition halls. Purchased from a Genoese family for 300,000 euros as belonging to the Flemish school and then authenticated in Prague

A job that lasted months to bring the lost Rubens back to Italy. The painting “The Risen Christ Appears to the Mother”, only recently attributed with certainty to the master of the Baroque, was exhibited to the public for the first time in October as part of the «Rubens in Genoa» exhibition at Palazzo Ducale. Since this morning, access to the room where the painting is located has been barred by some panels. “The work is no longer available on display,” reads a sign. The painting was confiscated by the Carabinieri of the Cultural Heritage Protection unit of Liguria at the disposal of the Public Prosecutor’s Office which also investigated four people for illegal export of cultural works and laundering.

The painting, dated 1612-1616, depicts the risen Christ in front of two female figures, both corresponding to the Madonna, one of which emerged following an x-ray and a restoration still to be completed. The work, until recently attributed generically to the Flemish school, has been owned by the noble Genoese family of Cambiaso at least since the beginning of the 1800s. The painting remained until the early 2000s in one of the Rolli palaces owned by the family.

Purchased for 300,000 euros from a private collector in 2012, it has been in Prague ever since. The investigations coordinated by prosecutor Eugenia Menichetti and deputy prosecutor Paolo D’Ovidio are focused on the value of the work, which increased between one change of ownership and another, until it was insured for 4 million euros, and on the system used by dealers of art to export it abroad. In particular, on the certificate of free movement relating to the painting, issued by the Pisa export office, which was allegedly obtained through false declarations and omissions.

The suspects, according to what was ascertained by the investigators, they also concealed the fictitious sale of the work using companies specially created abroad and difficult to identify. «It often happens that a work is attributed to an author only at a later time and that therefore can change its value, in this case the path that led to the identification of the risen Christ as the lost Rubens was complex but accurate» explains Anna Orlando, art historian, one of the leading experts on Rubens worldwide, and curator of the current exhibition in Genoa together with Nils Büttner.

The latter is also president of the Rubenianum in Antwerp, the highest international scientific authority for the study of Rubens’ works. “In the exhibition we decided to exhibit the work as ‘Rubens and his workshop’ – continues Orlando – after having studied it and had it analyzed by the competent bodies”. Namely the Rubenarium and the Istitut royal du Patrimoine italianique, a non-profit Belgian institution. It was precisely the X-ray that took place in Brussels that highlighted for the first time the second female figure, hidden by a layer of paint, and to help scholars understand the importance of the painting.

From Palazzo Ducale, site of the exhibition, they speak of “full and absolute collaboration with the carabinieri” and they reiterate how the loan request of the work took place in full compliance with current regulations: «And it could not be otherwise, considering the role that the Foundation plays not only at the city level», the words of the director Serena Bertolucci. It is not yet clear what triggered the investigation by the Genoese prosecutor, but without the public display of the «Lost Rubens» it would not have been possible to know of the existence of the work. The whole story refers to another sensational seizure that took place in the Doge’s Palace for five years and involved four works exhibited as original Modiglianis but which later turned out to be fakes.

December 30, 2022 (change December 30, 2022 | 17:08)

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Seized a Rubens in Palazzo Ducale: «It was exported illegally». Four suspects

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