4:12pm

Wed July 6, 2011
Kentucky Arts and Culture

Stolen Altarpiece Given to US Government

After spending 40 years at Louisville’s Speed Art Museum, a stolen 14th century work is going home. The Speed Art Museum bought the piece from a New York Gallery in 1973 for 38 thousand dollars, not realizing the Italian art was stolen from a home in Italy two years earlier.

The work is a three panel altarpiece.  The center panel depicts the Madonna and Child, with the other panels portraying various saints and the crucifixion.

The United States government will hand it over to the Italian government, which will decide whether or not to return it to the family that was burglarized.

Museum Director Charles Venable said at a handover ceremony that it’s often difficult to verify the authenticity of stolen art.

“How many of you have ever been to an antique’s mall?  You can raise your hand, you’re not going to be arrested,” Venable said to the crowd of about 50 people.  ”And if you’ve ever bought something at an antique’s mall, how do you really know where that object came from?  There are a lot of objects in the world, and it’s very hard to know where they are every single day.”

An Italian art researcher discovered the work was stolen using an online database in 2009.

The Speed museum has been reimbursed for the full 38 thousand dollars by the New York gallery.  The piece will remain available for viewing until Sunday afternoon.