Spotlights on the case of the ‘500 terracotta stolen in Valdarno in 1905 and today in the United States

The Cleveland Museum of Art preserves in its collection a glazed terracotta by Benedetto Buglioni, stolen from a chapel in Valdarno in 1904. The pressure rises to get the work back to Italy.

We will return to discuss the matter Madonna and child with saints from Benedetto Buglioni (Florence, 1461 – 1521) af Cleveland Museum of Art, after a group of parliamentarians brought the matter before Parliament in the summer of 2020 (we talked about the matter in a dedicated article). It’s a beautiful one glazed terracotta which at least from 1749 adorned a tabernacle of Ponte agli Stollia quiet village located in the woods of Valdarno, along the road that connects Figline Valdarno (of which it is a fraction) a Greve in Chianti. Then, in 1905, it was stolen: The suspected perpetrators of the theft were brought to justice in 1906, but traces of the work were lost.

But in 1921, an American financier and philanthropist, Jeptha Homer Wade II, donated it to the Cleveland Museum of Art after purchasing it, the very same year, from the Galerie George Petit in Paris through the intermediary PW French & Co. The work had belonged to the German antiquarian Raoul Heilbronner, from whom the French government had confiscated it during the First World War. Now Benedetto Buglioni’s work is included, however, with code 87709[1]in the database of illegally stolen cultural goods from Carabinieri’s heritage heritage unit: the glazed terracotta is filed with an old black-and-white photo, though easily recognizable.

Benedetto Buglioni, Madonna and child with Saints Francesco and Giovanni Gualberto (C. 1510-1520; Glazed and glazed polychrome terracotta, 174 x 96 x 27 cm; Cleveland, Cleveland Museum of Art)
The historic image of the Carabinieri's Cultural Heritage Protection Unit
The historic image of the Carabinieri’s Cultural Heritage Protection Unit

The case became topical again after the senator’s statements Margherita Corrado (today in the mixed group), which in 2020 together with eight other colleagues had addressed the parliamentary question to the Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini. The question is still open, but no answer has been received from the Minister. “The question of July 2020, almost two years ago, remained unanswered,” Corrado said, “but the case, although ‘cold’, is not over, and much could still be done to shed light on a story (the theft on 11 May). 1905) remained very present in the conscience of the local community.Pieces of history and memory torn from the living body of the country, which the Italian cultural diplomacy rightly praises, do not claim with the necessary determination.Fortunately, the local press (Valdarnopost.it) does not forget … ”.

This time, however, many are also talking about the history of the United States. The head News 5 from Cleveland, part of the network ABC, has dedicated a service to the cause. “It was taken away illegally, you can not deny it,” he told a News 5 the Italian art historian Victor Veronesi. “It is impossible not to say that this work is Ponte agli Stollis. It was the heart of Ponte agli Stolli”. However, the newspaper rejects that Cleveland’s work is the same as that seen in the photograph of Carabinieri: “a closer look at the two works shows that they are very similar to each other, but they are not the same. For example, the Madonna’s face looks at the child in the exhibited sculpture [a Cleveland], while looking much further at historical images ”. Of course just comparison of photographs it is not a sufficient condition to exclude that it is the same work, given the poor quality of the historical picture, very grainy and with strong contrasts that give the impression that the Virgin’s gaze has turned elsewhere. Furthermore, it is not excluded that the work has subsequently been amendedas Veronesi assumes, concluding by stating that the theft of the work “is and still is a great loss to the people of Ponte agli Stolli”.

Senator Corrado is now asking that work be done to bring the work back: a boost could come from the Valdarno community, which would see important work in the area return. Meanwhile, from the Cleveland Museum of Art there will be no comments, as is the practice when there are no official requests and when there are ongoing discussions. But if it were confirmed that Cleveland’s work was the one stolen in 1905, and a request was made for a return to the museum, the institute would cooperate: it would not be the first return of the Cleveland Museum of Art to Italy. . In fact, as early as 2008, the institute had returned 14 pieces stolen between 1975 and 1996, while in 2017 it returned a marble portrait from Roman times stolen in the Neapolitan area to Italy.

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