Greatest art theft of the GDR: paintings reappeared

Hthe Holbein of the elder "Saint Catherine" from the year 1509 is considered the art history as the saddest portrait of the Renaissance. The Basel painter renounces blood, sweat and tears; there is no monstrous wheel to which she is bound, nor the ensuing beheading with the dirigible sword. Holbein manages to let Katharina's tear-stained, red-eyed eyes and her mouth, which is still painfully distorted by the suffering of martyrdom, speak.

Stefan Trinks

This Preziose painting from the Dürer period was lost since their robbery in 1979. The fall into the annals of criminology as "art robbery of Gotha" case was a forty years unincluded burglary, in which on the night of December 14, 1979 five exceptionally valuable paintings were stolen from the baroque palace Friedenstein in Thuringia Gotha Next to the Holbein, the "Portrait of a Young Man" by Frans Hals, a "Selfportrait with Sunflower" by Anthonis van Dyck, on which he aligns himself as the court painter of the English king, like the heliotrope after the sun, and whose pedant is in England , as well as the "rural road with farm wagons and cows" by Jan Brueghel the Elder and the painting "Old Man" by Jan Lievens.

Of the five pictures that were exhibited in different rooms of the museum in Schloss Friedenstein and stolen with the associated picture frames, only black and white photos were available since then. As good as forgotten today, the art theft was considered one of the most spectacular of German post-war history. In any case, it was the most serious in the history of the GDR, if the forays of the Russians are excluded in the immediate post-war period.

Forty years ago, a scene of art robbery: Schloss Friedenstein in Gotha


The perpetrators got in at two o'clock in the morning

Unlike in the Dresden case of the Grünes Gewölbe, forty years ago, the perpetrators did not invade the ground floor in Schloss Friedenstein, but instead crampons over the third floor on the west side of the palace building. Although there was an alarm system at that time, unusual for Schlossmuseen in the GDR, it was not yet operational. At the time, as in the case of the diamond robbery in Dresden, the perpetrators apparently made deliberate use of the early inanimate morning hours, as the time of burglary was about two o'clock in the morning, as a result of the data of a climate writer registering a drop in temperature due to the window with the incoming December cold Theft resulted.

The value of the stolen paintings was already estimated in 1979 at a fabled around five million marks in the GDR, if you keep in mind that only – albeit larger – "Darmstadt Madonna" Holbein was auctioned years ago for more than forty million euros, can be easily appreciate that today would be a multiple of the sum for the five masterpieces to raise.

How did the suppliers get to the paintings?

But how did the pictures come back after forty years? On Thursday, nationwide house searches took place in connection with the art theft of 1979. This led the LKA Berlin in co-operation with the criminal police investigating bodies of the concerned federal states.

The prehistory sounds adventurous: In July 2018, an anonymous person approached the Schloss Friedenstein Foundation through a lawyer, claiming to be the owners of the paintings and providing a neither provable nor plausible acquisition history. Knut Kreuch, former foundation chairman of the Schloss Friedenstein Foundation and Lord Mayor Gothas, negotiated with the support of Munich's Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, which has already brokered such cases several times. On September 30, 2019, the paintings were handed over to the Schloss Friedenstein Foundation in Berlin for the purpose of the appraisal. The aim was to examine the authenticity of the paintings and to enable their return to Gotha. These tests, scheduled for three months and involving art experts and the technological research in the Berlin Rathgen research laboratory, are still in progress. The paintings have since been kept in safe custody.

Since the robbery only in a black and white replica in the castle to see:


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