5. Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence by Caravaggio
Considered one of the most prolific artists in history, the works of Caravaggio have long been coveted by thieves as his pieces are among the most valuable in the world. There have been numerous attempts to steal his creations, one successful robbery occurred on the night of October 17–18, 1969.
Recent discoveries have suggested this oil on canvas, depicting the nativity of Jesus, with saints Francis of Assisi and Lawrence among other figures surrounding Mary and the newborn Jesus, was commissioned by Fabio Nuti in April 1600.
The painting was completed in Rome by Caravaggio one year before he died on 18 July 1610 aged just 38. Traditionally historians have long thought he died of syphilis, however, some have attributed his passing to malaria, or possibly brucellosis from unpasteurised dairy.
On completion of the Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence (also known as The Adoration), it was moved to Sicily and housed in the Oratory of Saint Lawrence in Palermo, where it would hang above the altar.
Two thieves not only stole this masterpiece but also pillaged the Oratory of other artworks, precious woods and benches inlaid with mother of pearl, but interestingly they also took a carpet which authorities believe was used to roll up the painting.
Over the years there have been many speculations as to who was responsible for the theft but almost all of the theories revolve around the local Sicilian Mafia. The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) listed it among their “Top Ten Art Crimes” in 2005. Italian police, Interpol, and the FBI have all worked towards locating the painting. Its value has been variously estimated at $20 million.
Despite the numerous Mafia connections, it has been rumored that the painting is hidden abroad or that it was destroyed during the theft or during the 1980 earthquake. However, the Mafia connection remains the most likely as over the years many Mafia informants have claimed to either have taken part in the robbery or had it pass through their hands.
In 2015, television broadcasting company Sky commissioned a replica to replace an enlarged photograph that hung in the altar. The replica job was handed to Factum Arte, a company known for using sophisticated technology to create high-quality replicas. The completed work was hung in the altar on December 12, 2015, but many hope the original will be recovered one day.
Enjoy the complete works of Caravaggio here