Broward News

Feds Seize 500-Year-Old Painting Stolen by Nazi Cohorts During World War II

"Nazis. I hate these guys." -- Indiana Jones

Government agents seized a 500-year-old painting from the Mary Brogan Museum of Art & Science in Tallahassee on Friday, a work of art the U.S. Attorney's Office says was stolen out of France by friends of the Nazis in 1941.

Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rascal, by Girolamo de' Romani -- believed to have been painted in 1538 -- was seized and sold at auction in 1941 and eventually made its way to Tallahassee around eight months ago.

Despite some news headlines saying the piece was "stolen by the Nazis," it was actually taken by France's Vichy Regime, which collaborated with the bad guys during World War II. Still, we suppose it's sexy to say the Nazis stole it.

Here's how it ended up leaving France, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office:

The seizure complaint and supporting affidavit allege that the painting is among many works of art and other valuable items taken in a forced sale from the estate of Federico Gentili di Giuseppe. Gentili died in 1940 in Paris of natural causes, just months before the Nazi army invaded France in 1941. After receiving advanced warning of the impending Nazi invasion, Federico Gentili's children and grandchildren fled from France, escaping to Canada and the United States. Other family members, who were unable to flee, died in concentration camps.

Gentili's grandchildren have taken legal steps internationally to find and reclaim works illegally taken from their family during the Nazi occupation. In a landmark 1999 decision relating to World War II plunder, a French Court of Appeals forced the Musee de Louvre in Paris to return five paintings to the Gentili family, and ruled that the auction of the Gentili estate in Nazi-occupied France was an illegal forced sale and a "nullity."

The painting can not yet be returned to Gentili's family in Italy until the courts decide who actually owns the piece, but it'll leave a blank spot in the Brogan Museum until they figure it out.

"Many people know about the Nazi regime's massive theft and illegal sale of precious art belonging to Jewish families during World War II," Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton says in a statement. "They should also know that today there is an international network of law enforcement agencies working diligently to correct these injustices."

ICE has returned 2,500 artifacts to 22 countries since 2007 through its Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Unit.

The US Attorney's Office says Gentili's family was not allowed to return to France and take back the painting in 1941 due to "extraordinary anti-Semitic laws," and the Vichy Regime auctioned off Gentili's entire estate after his death, which happened the year before.

The painting was then acquired by the Pinacoteca di Brera gallery in Milan, Italy, in 2008, and came to Tallahassee on loan from Italy along with 50 other Baroque-style paintings.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley