Italian police confirm stolen masterpiece was fake

The Italian job: Thieves steal Bruegel masterpiece only to learn it was a copy planted by police

A pair of thieves were well and truly outmanoeuvred on Wednesday morning.

Crucifixion depicts the crucifixion of Jesus Christ from above.

The painting, which is considered a masterpiece of Flemish art, is worth in the region of €3 million (R49 million), according to The Guardian.

Thieves used a hammer to smash open its display case and made off in a vehicle.

"Rumours began to circulate that someone could steal the work and the carabinieri chose to put it in a safe place, replacing it with a copy and installing some surveillance cameras", explained Mayor Daniele Montebello, who helped keep the subterfuge under wraps before and even after the heist.

Police in Italy have been untroubled by the daring robber of a Flemish master's painting, for they have hanged a fake one a month ago.

Now, the Italian police are hunting down the thieves.

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It gradually emerged that the stolen object was a fake and that the original had been placed in safe keeping.

"Rumors were circulating that someone could steal the work, and so the police chose to put it in a safe place, replacing it with a copy and installing some cameras", Mayor Daniele Montebello said Wednesday night.

But by that evening he dropped the pretence, thanking the police and churchgoers for helping to lay the trap: "Some members of the congregation noticed that the painting on display was not the original, but they didn't give away the secret", Montebello said. Police installed surveillance cameras to monitor the church.

The painting had previously been hidden during WWII to protect it from German soldiers, and had been donated to the church by a wealthy family.

In a deception to rival the convoluted plots of thrillers such as The Thomas Crown Affair, a gang of Italian thieves were fooled into stealing a worthless painting.

Protecting valuable artwork displayed in churches poses a very real problem to the Italian carabinieri as they are much more hard to secure than a gallery or museum.

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