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Wednesday, 6 December, 2000, 00:38 GMT
US returns stolen masterpiece
The Bust of Christ
The Bust of Christ has been valued at $5 million
The United States has returned a valuable 16th century Italian oil painting believed to have been stolen by US soldiers in Germany at the end of World War II.


This is a jewel, one of the rarest of paintings

Sotheby's executive vice-president Hugh Hildesley
Officials of the Weimar art museum in eastern Germany received Jacopo de Barbari's Bust of Christ from US Customs in a ceremony in New York.

The painting disappeared from the Schwartzburg castle, where the town of Weimar kept its treasures during wartime, while US troops were in occupation in spring 1945.

Its whereabouts remained a mystery until it was discovered by a New York frame restorer in 1998.

The painting was traced back to a pastor in the Queens, New York, who said he had received it from a parishioner.

US customs seized the painting in 1999 at the request of the museum, and a subsequent appraisal valued the work at $5 million.

Big business

"This is a wonderful Christmas present," Weimar museum vice-director Thomas Foehl said at the ceremony.

And Sotheby's executive vice-president Hugh Hildesley described the painting as "the critical link between the Italian and German Renaissance".

US Customs Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced at the ceremony that the creation of an art recovery team to investigate international art theft.

"It's a big illegal business and it's getting bigger," he was quoted as saying.

Mr Foehl said that the US had returned four of 13 paintings which disappeared during the brief occupation.

But more than 250 works which disappeared when Soviet troops were stationed in the area have not been recovered.

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See also:

29 Feb 00 | Scotland
Scottish galleries on 'looted' list
17 Feb 00 | UK
Hope for Nazi loot victims
26 Jun 99 | Entertainment
Brushing out the taint of looted art
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