The missing Caravaggio
painting, Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence
(1609) was stolen from the altar of Palermo’s Oratory of San Lorenzo in 1969, a theft that is currently ranked number two on the FBI’s Top Ten Art Crimes list. In the years since, various former mafia members have told wild tales about the painting’s fate: that it was eaten mice, used as a bedside carpet, burned in a fire. But on Wednesday of last week, an Italian parliamentary body called the Antimafia Commission congregated in the oratory to present new evidence that the masterpiece could still be found. A more recent defector
from the mob, Gaetano Grado, told the commission in May 2017 that he had personally tracked down the painting after the theft and that his boss, Gaetano Badalamenti, had enlisted the help of a now-deceased Swiss art dealer who suggested cutting the painting up in order to be able to sell it.
A high ranking member of the commision cited Grado’s first-hand knowledge of the theft as reason to believe his claim, reigniting hope that the painting—or parts of it—may still be found and convincing Palermo prosecutors to investigate the theft anew. But others don’t buy Grado’s story. Bernardo Tortorici di Raffadali, president of the cultural association that currently manages the Oratory, said that the work would have been “extremely complicated,” to move because of the canvas’ scale and cited the “surgical precision” with which the canvas was removed from its frame as evidence that the theft was commissioned from a large, professional crew rather than a few local thieves. Rosy Bindi who leads the commission noted she believes the thieves were, “under the guidance of two experts in art thefts,” but that this didn’t discredit Grado’s account.