A professor at Lund University in Sweden was looking over a rare, 16th-century prayer book when he noticed something amiss. As Andrea Vogt reports for the Telegraph, the manuscript had been marked with an antique stamp of the Royal Library of Turin. Sensing that the manuscript might in fact still belong to the library, the professor contacted the Italian embassy in Sweden—and by doing so, helped authorities bust a notorious art theft ring.
The prayer book, Modus Orandi Deum Aliaque Pia et Christiana Exercitia Nec Non Deiparae Virginis Maria Litaniae, had in fact been pilfered from a glass case at the library in 2012. The professor directed authorities to a student in Bologna, who had sold the manuscript online. The student in turn said that he purchased the item from a local book dealer. When authorities raided the dealer’s warehouse, they found a trove of precious art and rare books that had been reported stolen from various locations across Italy.
Giovanni Saccani, director of the Royal Library, told Italian media, according to Vogt that the professor didn’t accept any compensation for returning the manuscript, which is worth an estimated €20,000-€30,000.
Turin is something of a hotbed for art crimes, but Italian police have recently been cracking down on the problem. In 2017, 77 people in the Turin area were implicated in art crimes, and 3,470 artworks were seized before they could be shipped abroad, Vogt reports. In May, police announced that they had recovered a series of masterpieces worth millions of dollars from a villa in Turin. A collector reportedly told authorities about the paintings’ whereabouts after the illicit dealers tried to pay him with counterfeit bills.
Unfortunately, police haven’t yet nabbed the culprits behind a heist that took place in nearby Monza, Art News reports. In April, thieves stole nearly $30 million worth of art by Rembrandt and Renoir from an art dealer there, after posing as buyers from the Albanian consulate.