November 7, 2016

Missing: "Pardon of Assisi" (1631) by French painter Jean Lhomme

Yesterday's local news in Italy reported that a painting, commissioned by Pope Urban VII, has disappeared following the earthquake that struck the Church of Santo Stefano, located in the zone of Nottoria, 13 km from Norcia in central Italy. 


The large altar painting, "Pardon of Assisi" is 193 x 142 cm in dimension and was painted by the French painter Jean L'homme in 1631. The first publicized images of the artwork related to the possible theft were posted by Professor Alberto D'Atanasio on Facebook October 06, 2016.   


The incident is currently being investigated by the Perugia division of Italy's Carabinieri del Nucleo Tutela del Patrimonio.  Initial reports seemed to indicate that perhaps there was a possibility that the artwork had been moved elsewhere for safekeeping, albeit without stellar coordination.  This morning however, Italian newspaper La Repubblica quoted Don. Marco Rufini, the priest responsible for the church as saying he thinks the work was stolen by professionals.  The priest is quoted in the newspaper's article as saying:

"Lo hanno staccato dal supporto, lo hanno messo in terra, quindi hanno tagliato lateralmente la tela per separarla dalla cornice", riferisce il parroco di Norcia." [“They have taken the painting down from its support, putting it on the ground, then they have cut the canvas to separate it from the frame.”]

While cutting a painting from the frame doesn't necessarily indicate the work of professionals, (many stolen paintings taken from bumbling as well as professional thieves have suffered similar destructive fates), the current notification seems to suggest an actual theft may have occurred and that perhaps the artwork was not merely removed for safekeeping.

Italians have an interesting word for thieves that opportunistically loot during miseries of others.  They are called "gli sciacalli" "the jackals" an apropos name for anyone who would stoop so low as to destroy what mother nature itself hasn't already destroyed. 


Video taken during this RAI3 interview with Don. Marco Rufini clearly shows the church's level of destruction following the October earthquakes and the fact that there appears to have been, at the time of this filming, at least one additional artwork still on exhibition and potentially exposed to the elements inside the severely damaged church.  This situation lends support to the fact that the painting was likely accessible to opportunistic looters, now it will be up to law enforcement to discover who they were.

If the painting has in fact been stolen, the thief, or thieves, could be prosecuted article 624bis of the Italian Penal Code, and under Article 61 and 625 of the Criminal Code.



By:  Lynda Albertson

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