Tallahassee, Florida - A museum in Tallahassee finds itself at the center of a fascinating international mystery involving a nearly 500-year-old piece of art believed to have been stolen by the Nazis during World War II.
The painting, called "Christ Carrying the Cross Pulled Up by a Soldier" is on loan to the Brogan Museum from another museum in Milan, Italy.
Now U.S. authorities are directing the Brogan Museum not to return the famous painting until they can figure out its rightful owners.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but the story behind this famous painting could fill a novel.
Artist Girolamo Romano, who was just known by the name "Romanino" in his day, painted it around 1538.
Chucha Barber, the CEO of the Mary Brogan Museum, marvels at the artwork. She calls the brush strokes brilliant.
"I just think the sheer beauty of this painting is extraordinary. The sheen of the satin robe it just looks like it could walk off of the canvas."
In 1914, a Jewish man named Giuseppe Gentili bought the painting at an auction. Then during World War II, his family was forced to flee the forces of fascism in Italy.
They traveled to France and that's where the Nazis are believed to have stolen the famous painting from Gentili's apartment as German soldiers conducted raids across Europe seizing art, jewelry and money. Gentili's sister and other members of the family died in concentration camps.
Now while U.S. authorities work with the Italian government to determine the painting's owners, the Brogan Museum will keep custody of Romanino's artwork.
Barber says Gentili's grandson, Lionel Salem of London, wants the painting returned to his family.
"He's been very emotional in his conversations with me personally about how important it is and he said clearly we can't cut the painting into five pieces. There are apparently five siblings."
So the long story of this historic painting prepares to add another chapter as a Jewish family, who fled the Holocaust, seeks a measure of justice for a long-lost masterpiece.
Barber says the arts community around the world is increasingly supportive of the need to repatriate stolen artifacts to their rightful owners.
"This case underscores that justice is still required for the egregious Nazi crimes against humanity committed in the second world war, even 70 years later and 4,000 miles away. The Brogan Museum's commitment is to protect this treasure and to share its beauty with the public through this exhibit, until its rightful owner can be determined."
Under an agreement with the Italian government, the Brogan Museum will keep the painting through November 20th and it will remain on display there this fall.
The timing of the international mystery is serendipitous for the Brogan as it tries mightily to pull itself out of financial trouble. Barber says she hopes the situation offers a teachable moment about the importance of museums and the atrocities of the Holocaust.
See more at www.thebrogan.org.
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