Police in Larvik, south of Oslo, could proudly display a valuable, 450-year-old painting after finding it in a truck in eastern Norway on Wednesday. The painting was stolen from a church in Larvik over the weekend, and good old-fashioned police work is said to have led to its recovery.
Police initially feared that Norway had emerged as a new target for organized crime against churches, which have been targets of theft all over Europe. A 50-year-old man arrested on Wednesday in connection with the theft, however, is a local businessman from Larvik with a conviction for white-collar crime on his record.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Thursday morning that police were seeking three other persons believed to have been involved in the theft. Police evidence reportedly suggests that at least two persons were actually in Larvik Church shortly after midnight Saturday, after they smashed a window, snatched the painting and fled.
The painting, by German Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach, depicts Jesus Christ with small children and elegantly dressed women. Cranach, who died in 1553, is also known to have used the motif in eight other variations. The painting is valued at NOK 20 million (about USD 4.4 million) and had hung in Larvik Church for around 300 years.
Now church officials are keen to hang the painting back up, despite fears voiced earlier in the week over a lack of security.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported Wednesday that the church had asked Norway’s National Gallery in Oslo to take over the painting a few years ago, but the museum declined.
It seems likely security measures will be enhanced, if and when the painting is re-hung. Its theft set off debate in Norway over how state churches can better secure the valuable and historic items many contain.