A historic 17th century painting by the Italian baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi has been returned to Italy, with the active support of Eurojust. Two suspects are being investigated for fraud and attempts to illegally sell the painting of the legend of Roman Charity in Austria. They obtained an export license for the painting while disguising its origins and value.
Eurojust provided rapid assistance through its Italian and Austrian National Desks by supporting the execution of a European Investigation Order and a freezing certificate at the request of the judicial authorities in Bari. The value of the painting is estimated at over EUR 2 million.
Commenting on the return of the painting, Mr Filippo Spiezia, National Member for Italy at Eurojust, said: ‘I’m delighted that the rapid and good cooperation with our Austrian colleagues at the Agency has led to the return to Italy of this important piece of cultural heritage. It confirms the commitment of the Italian Desk at Eurojust to the recovery of major assets of historical, cultural and artistic value. This commitment is also reflected in a new operational protocol we have agreed upon with the Italian Ministry of Culture and the Cultural Heritage Unit of the Carabinieri.’
The painting was commissioned to the Italian female painter Artemisia Gentileschi in the first half of the 17th century by Count Giangirolamo II of Acquaviva. The painting depicts the Roman Charity and the legend of Cimone and Pero, as narrated by Valerio Massimo, and belonged to the legacy of the late Count.
By disguising the fact that the painting was by Gentileschi and underestimating its true value, in 2019 the suspects got an export license from the Italian Ministry of Culture, using a Tuscan brokerage company. The painting was then transferred to Austria, where it was due to be auctioned for a much higher price than the indicated value. A similar modus operandi had previously been used by other suspects with another Gentileschi painting.
Investigations into the case were started in 2020 by the Cultural Heritage Unit of the Italian Carabinieri, which managed to trace the painting to an auction house in Vienna. The Public Prosecutor’s Office of Bari subsequently had the export license cancelled by the Ministry of Culture. Eurojust provided the essential support to enable the judicial cooperation so the painting could be seized at the auction house by the Austrian Police, with the assistance of the Italian embassy in Austria.