On a stormy evening in December 1979, thieves broke into Friedenstein Castle in Gotha, Germany, and escaped with a breathtaking haul: five paintings by European Outdated Masters, including portraits by German painter Hans Holbein the Elder and Dutch artist Frans Hals.
The theft was the largest of its type to get place in communist East Germany. Police interviewed a lot more than 1,000 men and women, including all palace personnel and their family members, to no avail.
In modern decades, some onlookers have as opposed the robbery to the notorious 1990 Gardner Museum theft, which is greatly regarded as the worst museum heist in contemporary heritage. Compared with the nevertheless-unsolved Gardner burglary, nevertheless, the Friedenstein tale has a content ending: Immediately after four a long time of browsing, German officials succeeded in monitoring down the 5 Old Grasp paintings and returning them to the castle, as Konstantin von Hammerstein reported for Der Spiegel in 2019.
Facts about the 1979 case continue to emerge today. This month, in a catalog for a recently opened exhibition about the theft, Friedenstein scientists elevated provocative—but unconfirmed—answers to two very long-standing mysteries surrounding the heist, studies Catherine Hickley for the Artwork Newspaper.
Most notably, curator Timo Trümper tells the Artwork Newspaper, he has explanation to suspect that one particular of the 5 stolen works is significantly a lot more precious than previously believed. Dated to among 1629 and 1632, the portrait of an aged man was prolonged believed to be the get the job done of either Jan Lievens or Ferdinand Bol, two contemporaries of famed Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn. After finishing an examination of the portray, nonetheless, Trümper has appear to the conclusion that Rembrandt himself could have produced the portrait.
Bol’s signature on the back again of the canvas has long been considered as proof of his authorship. (According to the Rijksmuseum, Bol examined in Rembrandt’s Amsterdam studio prior to location up his have studio in 1642. Several of his early performs strongly adhere to Rembrandt’s fashion.) But Trümper says the signature might instead signify that Bol owned the artwork. The younger artist could have occur into possession of the painting immediately after Rembrandt went bankrupt in 1656, the curator implies.
Equally the portrait’s skillful pentimenti, or underpaintings, and the top quality of the composition recommend it was the teacher—not the student—who painted the get the job done, writes Taylor Dafoe for Artnet News.
Trümper’s theories have nevertheless to be verified, he explained to reporters at a press event, and might not be established possibly way for lots of a long time. The museum is presently studying the portray in planning for a prepared Rembrandt exhibition in 2027, for each Artnet Information.
The Harvard Artwork Museums keep a comparable portrait attributed to Rembrandt in their collections. If the Gotha portray turns out to be a Rembrandt primary, that could necessarily mean Harvard’s variation is a duplicate, Trümper provides. Harvard’s gallery textual content notes that Rembrandt on a regular basis produced this sort of artworks, which had been “not … formal portrait[s], but a analyze of a generic type and emotional expression.”
“It’s a concern of interpretation,” Trümper tells the Artwork Newspaper. “We can be guaranteed it originated in Rembrandt’s studio—the issue is how considerably of it is Rembrandt and how substantially his pupils? We have by now talked to a good deal of colleagues. 50 percent say, ‘No, it’s not Rembrandt, it is 1 of his pupils.’ The other fifty percent say it is an appealing principle and they just can’t rule it out.”
The exhibition also raises theories relating to much more current events. In an essay toward the conclusion of the catalog, journalist von Hammerstein turns readers’ consideration to the enduring thriller of who fully commited the 1979 theft.
Police have never ever formally accused anyone of the crime, notes Tessa Solomon for ARTNews. But von Hammerstein argues that the heist was the function of Rudi Bernhardt, an East German practice driver who supposedly smuggled the paintings across the Iron Curtain to a pair in West Germany. Bernhardt died in 2016.
On view at the Castle Museum through August 2022, “Back again in Gotha! The Shed Masterpieces” traces the history of the 1979 theft and the subsequent recovery of the 5 masterpieces. The demonstrate also considers other instances the castle has been looted or robbed, these as during Earth War II.
Lots of beforehand stolen and recovered works—including the 5 taken in 1979—are integrated in the exhibition. In the meantime, dozens of vacant frames symbolize the far more than 1,700 things nevertheless missing from the castle’s collections, for every the Art Newspaper.
“Visitors can anticipate really enjoyable and diverse tales about glamorous objects,” suggests Trümper in a assertion, for every Google Translate.
The museum is also exhibiting historical paperwork relevant to the heist in the exhibition. With these resources at visitors’ disposal, provides the curator, “you can look for for clues yourself.”
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