Italy is sending these Van Gogh masterpieces home, 14 years after a mafia boss stole them

Two Van Gogh masterpieces stolen in Amsterdam 14 years ago will be returning to the Netherlands from Italy shortly after police recovered them from the house of notorious drug boss, a museum official said on Thursday.

Italy is sending these Van Gogh masterpieces home, 14 years after a mafia boss stole them
The director of the Van Gogh Museum poses with the stolen artworks. Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP

The 1882 “Seascape at Scheveningen” and the 1884/5 “Congregation leaving the Reformed Church at Nuenen” will soon be on their way after an Italian judge cleared their return, Van Gogh Museum director Axel Rueger said.

“We've just heard that the judge has ordered the release of the two recovered Van Goghs,” Rueger said in a statement issued in Amsterdam.

“The two canvasses will be formally handed over in the near future. Precise date hasn't been fixed yet, but it's expected to happen quickly,” he said.

Italian investigators in late September raided a home belonging to infamous drug baron Raffaele Imperiale, who was arrested ten years ago at the same
location at Castellammare di Stabia, some 34 kilometres (21 miles) southeast of Naples.

The area is a notorious hotspot for Neapolitan mafia activity.

The two paintings – which have since been confirmed as authentic and are worth millions – were stolen in a daring raid in 2002 by thieves using a simple ladder and a length of rope.

The criminals broke into the museum in downtown Amsterdam on December 7th that year using the ladder to climb onto the roof, where they broke through  a window and used a rope to get in and out of the heavily fortified building.

The heist left Dutch police flabbergasted at the time.

Despite launching an international manhunt, the paintings' whereabouts were unknown until being recovered in the Naples area, the Van Gogh Museum said.

“It is excellent news that the paintings will shortly be returning to the Netherlands,” Dutch Culture Minister Jet Bussemaker said.

“Everyone, both young and old, should soon be able to enjoy these works again at the Van Gogh Museum,” she said.

Italian media at the time of the recovery reported that Imperiale, who belongs to the Amato-Pagana clan, is believed to have subsequently fled to Dubai,
where he owns a construction company.

A new arrest warrant was issued against him last year.

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Falling Christmas decorations cause ‘irreversible damage’ to Italy’s Verona Arena

The Verona Arena, one of Italy’s most iconic landmarks, was closed to the public after a giant steel Christmas decoration collapsed while being taken down on Monday.

Falling Christmas decorations cause 'irreversible damage' to Italy's Verona Arena

The accident happened in the late morning of Monday, January 24th but was only revealed to national media late in the evening. 

Verona’s Archaeology and Fine Arts Superintendent, Vincenzo Tinè, told Ansa that the steel comet fell to the ground as it was being lifted out of the amphitheatre.

The structure – 82 metres in length and weighing around 78 tons – reportedly defaced a section of the arena’s stands, with Tinè describing the damage to the venue as “irreversible” earlier on Tuesday. 

Local police sealed off the area immediately after the accident, and prosecutor Alberto Sergi was reportedly set to launch an official inquiry into the collapse.

Repair works were expected to take weeks, and it wasn’t known how long the arena would remain closed to the public.

Well-known figures from Italy’s art world commented on the accident, with controversial art critic Vittorio Sgarbi saying the steel comet, which has been used as part of the building’s Christmas decorations since 1984, should “never be let into the arena again”.

A Roman amphitheatre dating back to around 30 AD, the Verona Arena is widely regarded as one of the best-preserved ancient buildings of its kind.

To this day, the building is used as a venue for some of the most important large-scale opera performances in the world.