How do you recover a stolen masterpiece? As most experts will tell you, it’s not as easy as you might think. In fact, scores of stolen works over the years have never even been recovered. That’s the case with famous heists—for example, the 13 masterpieces from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990—as well as lesser-known ones. But there are fortunate cases where the works were indeed found, and one involves a Caravaggio and Father Marius Zarafa, a Maltese priest and art historian.
Zarafa was the director of Malta’s National Museums in 1984, when, during visiting hours, thieves took Caravaggio’s St. Jerome in Valletta. Displayed in St. John’s Co-Cathedral, an important example of High Baroque architecture, Caravaggio’s St. Jerome was stolen from the cathedral’s attached museum galleries with precision. How it was lost—and, later, found—is the subject of a new episode of PBS’s long-running series Secrets of the Dead. The story, as art historian Sandro Debono points out, feels almost too good to be true. As he recalls in the documentary, “This theft reads very much like a piece of fiction.”
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