Federal Agents Seize Painting Plundered By Nazis from Public Display in Tallahassee
Around the State
The 473-year-old painting by the Italian artist Girolamo Romano, also known as Romanino, was removed from the Tallahassee cultural center with the cooperation of the museum and will remain in a secured location until the ownership can be lawfully determined.
The World War II plunder -- "Cristo Portacroce Trascinato Da Un Mangoldo" ("The Christ Bearing the Cross Dragged by a Rascal") -- had been on display at the Brogan since March, when it was brought to America as part of a 50-piece exhibit loaned from the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, Italy.
The family claiming ownership had been trying to get it back since 2000, but according to the complaint filed Friday by the U.S. attorney’s office in Tallahassee, the Italian government had refused to return the masterpiece.
Homeland Security agents declined to discuss how they were advised the painting was included in the Pinacoteca di Brera loan.
Chucha Barber, the Brogan's CEO, said she was unaware of the painting’s Nazi connections until contacted by Homeland Security in July.
“Typically, when an institution borrows objects from another institution there are a variety of circumstances that can cover that loan,” Barber said.
“In the case of the loan between the Pinacoteca di Brera and the Brogan Museum, the Pinacoteca di Brera selected the paintings from its great and amazing collection that would travel overseas and be a part of this wonderful exhibition. The Brogan, under normal circumstance, would not research each individual painting to determine if one or more had been acquired in some inappropriate way.”
Michael Kennedy, assistant special agent in charge of Homeland Security investigations, said such seizures are not routine but also not rare, as 2,500 stolen artifacts have been returned to foreign ownership since 2007.
Pamela Marsh, U.S. attorney for the North District of Florida, filed a 100-page civil forfeiture complaint and affidavit to seize the Renaissance-era painting Friday morning. By noon, agents arrived at the museum to take possession of the piece.
The painting was among a whole collection of art works, fine furniture and original manuscripts taken after the Nazis marched into Paris, Marsh said.
“Our pleading makes it very plain that we believe the heirs of Gentile di Giuseppe are the rightful owners,” Marsh said.
The 16th century baroque piece was reportedly sold by the French Vichy government in 1941, a year after the family of Gentile di Giuseppe fled before the Nazi advance on Paris.
The piece is one of at least five the Jewish family has been seeking to regain.
The painting depicts Christ, crowned with thorns and wearing a striking copper-colored silk robe, carrying the cross on his right shoulder while being dragged on a rope by a soldier
Giuseppe had purchased the painting in 1914 at auction from the wealthy Crespi family of Milan. Giuseppe died of natural causes in 1940.
The complaint by the United States names the painting as the defendant.
Reach Jim Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859 or (772) 215-9889.