Thursday, October 4, 2007

The three-year cycle of stolen art: Leonardo painting recovered, weeks after owner's death

The Duke of Buccleuch died in early September aged 83, evidently still brokenhearted at the theft four years ago of Leonardo da Vinci's The Madonna of the Yarnwinder (left) from his ancestral seat in Dumfriesshire.

Now, just weeks after the duke's death, the painting has been recovered and four men arrested.

It is widely known among loss adjusters and specialist art detectives that important pictures taken in art heists tend to re-emerge around three years later. This 'three-year cycle' seems to have been the case with the Duke of Buccleuch's Madonna, which was stolen in broad daylight during a public tour of Drumlanrig Castle in August 2003. Two men dressed as tourists overpowered a guide, snatched the painting and drove off in a white Volkswagen Golf.

Apparently the thieves recently started to enter into some kind of negotiation to try and sell the painting. They were arrested after police intercepted a meeting between five people in the centre of Glasgow.

This is good news for art theft detectives as it demonstrates that not all stolen masterpieces disappear into oblivion. But it remains just the tip of an iceberg that has made stolen art the third most lucrative illicit trade after arms and drugs.

Stolen art is now used as collateral in an extensive subterranean criminal network that embraces people trafficking and prostitution. Human misery is the main product issuing from those global pipelines. Meanwhile prices rise inexorably in the art market.

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