Anti-mafia investigators in Italy are closer than ever before to solving one of the world’s top 10 international art crimes.
Caravaggio’s ‘Nativity with St Francis and St Lawrence’ (1609) went missing from the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo in 1969. Two thieves used razor blades to the cut the nativity scene from its frame above the oratory’s altar.
The theft of the masterpiece gave rise to an abundance of conspiracy theories as to its fate. Some believed it had been left to rot in a barn and was gnawed away by rats. Others thought it was destroyed by fire or used to decorate a mobster’s bedroom.
Contrary to these hypotheses, Italian investigators announced last Thursday (31 May 2018) that new clues have emerged in the cold case, which suggest the masterpiece has survived. The Head of Italy’s anti-mafia commission, Rosy Bindi, told The Guardian that they had been tipped off by a former mobster-turned mafia informant.
In 2016, Gaetano Grado let slip that a Sicilian mob boss asked him to track down the art thieves just days after they swiped the the painting from the oratory. Gaetano Badalamenti, known as the “boss of bosses”, then went on to acquire the Caravaggio himself before selling it to a Swiss art dealer.
It was first thought that the dealer had to divide the painting into pieces in order to sell it. On the basis of new evidence, the anti-mafia commission now believe the complete work may yet remain intact in Switzerland.