Judge: Baroque artwork to return to di Giuseppe’s heirs

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Judge: Baroque artwork to return to di Giuseppe’s heirs

TALLAHASSEE, Florida - A U.S. federal judge has ordered the return of a 16th-century Baroque painting depicting Christ carrying the cross to the heirs of a Jewish man who died shortly before the German occupation of France during World War II.

U.S. Judge Robert Hinkle filed the order Monday to return the work - “Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rogue’’ - to the descendants of Federico Gentili di Giuseppe. U.S. authorities seized the Italian painting last November from a Florida museum that was lent it by the famed Pinacoteca di Brera museum of Milan.

The painting by Gerolamo Romano is believed to date to about 1538 and was purchased by di Giuseppe in 1914 during an auction in Paris. He died in 1940, a month before Nazi troops entered and occupied France.

The work is believed to have been among more than 70 paintings from di Giuseppe’s collection auctioned by the French Vichy government in 1941 in order to pay off debts, court records indicate. But members of di Giuseppe’s Jewish family who fled the country because of the Nazi occupation have said the sale was illegal and had sought the painting’s return.

U.S. Attorney Pam Marsh said last November that the federal government believed that the painting was stolen and rightfully belonged to the family. Court documents stated that no one other than family heirs had filed a claim for ownership of the painting, which depicts Christ crowned with thorns as he carries a cross and is being dragged along.

The painting was one of 50 works lent to the Mary Brogan Museum of Art & Science in Tallahassee. The museum, which had been struggling financially and faces an uncertain future, closed its doors to the public last month.

The painting has been held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at an undisclosed location. No one was available from Marsh’s office on Monday evening to discuss when and how the painting would be handed over to the heirs.

Court documents filed by U.S. authorities contended that the Milan museum - which is owned by the Italian government - should have known that the painting was claimed by the di Giuseppe family. Lawyers for the family wrote to the museum back in 2001 about the painting, which had been acquired by the Pinacoteca di Brera in 1998. The Italian government had been contacted previously about the painting as well. AP

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