Stolen masterpieces are no longer lost – at least not digitally, anyway. A metaverse gallery has opened its doors to art lovers. And, it is solely for the purpose of displaying masterpieces that were stolen, and never found again.
These works have been missing for decades and have some wild stories attached to them.
The company behind the gallery, Compass UOL said, “The Stolen Art Gallery is the first metaverse museum that displays major works of art that have been stolen or are missing. Visitors, art lovers, and critics can interact with masterpieces that disappeared decades ago in this immersive social experience hall.”
Stolen masterpieces: Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence
The gallery includes Caravaggio’s Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence. On a stormy night, it was stolen from an oratory in Sicily, Italy in 1969. It is probably one of the most famous missing paintings in the world. It was completed in 1609 by the Italian painter.
Caravaggio was known for painting dramatic scenes, which often depicted violent struggles, torture, and people dying. He worked fast with live models, forgoing initial drawings, and working directly onto canvas.
This particular stolen work shows the biblical birth of Jesus, with saints Francis of Assisi and Lawrence surrounding Mary and the newborn. The painting is large – 2.7 meters high by two meters wide.
Two thieves stole the painting by cutting the masterpiece from its frame. They then pinched a carpet and used it to roll up the painting.
Amateurs or professionals?
Some officials say the robbery was carried out by amateurs. The thieves supposedly saw a TV show about artifacts in Italy a few weeks before. Amazed at its value, they worked out that the building where it was displayed was only guarded by an elderly janitor.
After the robbers stole it, it is thought that the Mafia learned of the theft, probably through the efforts of the thieves trying to sell it. The Mafia made the sale their business and intercepted the painting.
The theft is probably the most significant art crime in the history of the art world. The FBI have declared it to be in their “Top Ten Art Crimes.”
Interpol, the Italian police, and the FBI have all tried to find the painting. In legitimate markets, it is thought to be worth around $20m. However, black market resale value is known to be less, sometimes only 10% of the legit market price.
Stolen masterpieces: Mafia mystery remains
Investigators say that in the decades after the theft, the painting changed hands among the Sicilian Mafia. Known as Cosa Nostra by its members, this criminal society of Sicily is thought to still possess the painting.
There have been many informants from the mafia who have claimed to know where it was. One said it was being used as a floor mat by boss Salvatore Riina. A different informant said Riina often showed it off at meetings.
In 2005, a member of the Cosa Nostra, Francesco Marino Mannoia told police that he was involved in the theft. He said that the painting was stolen on commission. When the private buyer saw how damaged the painting was after the theft, he wept and refused to pay. Mannoia stopped short at giving to give the current location of the artwork.
In other accounts, the artwork was moved from boss to boss. One purported boss was Gerlando Alberti. But, he was arrested in 1981, so he was said to have quickly buried the painting with cash and drugs. When his nephew showed police the burial spot, no painting was found.
Another mafia figure, Filippo Graviano, said the painting was destroyed in the 1980s, after being given to the Pullara family in Palermo. They hid it in a barn, however, they came back to find it had been eaten by rats and pigs.
Other accounts say that it was handed on to a Swiss black market dealer, who has since died. Its whereabouts might forever be unsolved.
A replica of the painting was commissioned in 2015 by the Sky television network, who did a documentary about the painting, its theft and its replica. The new painting was recreated using slides and photographs of the original artwork during its last restoration in 1951.
The replica now hangs over the altar where the masterpiece once was for hundreds of years.
Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee is Rembrandt’s only seascape. It also “hangs” in the metaverse gallery. Burglars nabbed it from the Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. As far as modern history goes, this robbery was the biggest art heist ever.
Once in the metaverse and looking at this painting, enthusiasts can tap their wrist. Compass UOL says, “As moonlight filters from a skylight into the darkened warehouse of the gallery and you hear the crashing storm at sea, you can tap your wrist to have a miniature bust of Rembrandt materialize.” Rembrandt says that he “included a self-portrait in the boat, the only sailor looking back at you from the painting.”
If you visit the metaverse gallery, you will also see Cézanne’s View of Auvers-sur-Oise.
This work was pinched out of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, UK. This happened in the early hours before the sunrise of New Year’s Day, 1999. It was a meticulously planned raid.
Other works by Van Gogh and Manet also appear in the stolen gallery.
The metaverse experience
It is this kind of metaverse experience that market research firm Gartner says backs up their research. They claim that 25 percent of people “will spend at least an hour a day in the metaverse by 2026.”
Compass UOL say they have a few added extras. “You can come much closer to the painting that you would in a physical museum and notice tiny Rembrandt giving you a half smile as he grabs on to a boat amid the giant waves.”
Alexis Rockenbach is the CEO of Compass UOL. “It is more about immersive social interaction than just the virtual reality environment. You can interact with your friends around the art pieces, discuss your impressions, make sketches, and share notes and information about the artist, the paintings, and their stories.”
The Stolen Art Gallery is available for iOS, Android and the Oculus Quest.
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