Three men dressed in black entered the Castelvecchio museum in northern Italy at the evening change of guard on Thursday, tying up and gagging the site's security officer and a cashier before nabbing the paintings.
Their haul included 'Portrait of a Lady' by Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens and 'Male Portrait'by Venetian artist Tintoretto, as well as works by Pisanello, Jacopo Bellini, Giovanni Francesco Caroto and Hans de Jode.
The museum told art investigators the works were worth an estimated 15 million euros ($16.05 million), adding that it looked like the job had likely been masterminded by a private collector.
“Someone sent them, they were skilled, they knew exactly where they were going,” mayor Flavio Tosi said, adding that 11 of the paintings stolen had been masterpieces while others were more minor works.
Roberto Bolis from the council's press office said the museum had 24-hour security but the robbery had been planned so that the thieves arrived after the building emptied but before the alarms had been activated.
“We don't yet know if they were armed, or whether they took the security officer's weapon,” he said, adding that both the guard and cashier were in shock and were being debriefed by investigators. “They tied up the security officer as well and took his keys so they could get away in his car,” he said.
One of the men watched over the hostages while the other two raided the exhibition rooms.
“It was only once they were able to untie themselves that the alarm was raised,” Bolis added.
Footage from the 48 cameras installed in and around the premises has been handed over to police.