Forty years ago, a manger scene, depicting Mary and baby Jesus flanked by saints, painted in 1609 by Caravaggio, was swiped from a Sicilian chapel.
Extroart, an art recovery organization founded by Italian Ludovico Gippetto, is focused on finding this Renaissance masterpiece. The painting has not been seen since 1969.
Likely lifted by the Mafia, "Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence" is now on a postcard emblazoned with the word "Wanted" sent throughout Italy and worldwide to embassies and institutions.
Gippetto hopes the publicity might yield the painting, perhaps hidden in an unsuspecting Sicilian granny's attic or somewhere abroad.
In March, another Caravaggio, the Taking of Christ (Judas’ Kiss), stolen in 2008 from the Museum of Western and Eastern Art in Odessa, Ukraine, was recovered after appearing in a Moscow-based internet auction for $2 million. Experts value that painting at $100 million.
About 50,000 works of art are stolen each year; only 10% are ever recovered. Organized crime takes in $6 billion a year in illicit art trading on the black market and as collateral for drugs and arms.
According to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, art crime is the third most profitable criminal enterprise behind drugs and arms trafficking.