A sculpture stolen from a Tuscan chapel has been missing for more than a century. Italian authorities say it’s in Cleveland

For decades, the whereabouts of a sculpture stolen from a Tuscan chapel remained unknown. Turns out the piece may have been hiding in the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) most of the time.

This is at least the assertion of a group of nine Italian senators during a July 2020 parliamentary session. At the time, the group urged the country’s Minister of Cultural Heritage to pursue the return of the artwork to Italy.

Since then, however, say the senators, their case has not been followed by cultural officials on either side of the Atlantic Ocean.

The room, a height of five and a half feet Terracotta relief by Italian sculptor Benedetto Buglioni, represents the Virgin enthroned with the Child Jesus on her lap, both flanked on either side by Saints Francis and Giovanni Gualberto. Created circa 1510-1520, the sculpture is glazed with pigments made from crushed glass, giving it a unique and vibrant color palette that has not faded over time.

It was donated to the CMA in 1921 by Jeptha H. Wade II, a prominent industrialist who had co-founded the museum eight years earlier. According to the provenance report on the museum’s website, Wade purchased the piece in Paris the same year. Previously, it had been acquired by the Parisian merchant of German origin Raoul Heilbronner in 1911, then confiscated by the French State in 1914 at the dawn of the First World War.

Those who believe the sculpture was stolen in Italy suggest the crime took place years earlier. According to a report from Valdarno postit was taken by a group of robbers from a chapel in Ponte agli Stolli, a hamlet outside Figline and Incisa Valdarno in central Italy, in 1904 or 1905.

The artwork – or at least one that closely resembles it – is in the Carabinieri’s database of stolen cultural heritage. Yet former Italian senator Margherita Corrado, who led the 2020 investigation into the sculpture, said neither her country’s police nor its culture ministry had sought to recover the sculpture.

“The goal,” Corrado told the Cleveland media outlet. WEWS Channel 5 in a press release, “is to achieve the result that the Figline community has been waiting for for more than a century, namely the return of the [altarpiece] in Italy.”

CMA representatives did not immediately respond to Artnet News’ request for comment, but Colleen Criste, the institution’s deputy director and director of philanthropy, told Cleveland.com that the Italian article is ” the only thing we’ve heard about that claim.”

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