ROME (AFP).- Thieves in Italy were left red-faced on Thursday after it emerged that the Flemish masterpiece they stole from a rural church was in fact a copy swapped by police.
"Currently the thieves are on the run," a policewoman in the northern village Castelnuovo Magra told AFP, confirming the theft of Pieter Brueghel the Younger's "Crucifixion".
Or so thieves thought when they grabbed the 17th century painting, with an estimated value of three million euros, after smashing a display case in the Saint Mary Magdalen church in northern province La Spezia.
Little did they suspect that police had caught wind of their plan to swipe the painted 43cm x 67cm wooden panel and substituted a copy a few weeks ago.
The painting was previously stolen by local criminals in 1979. They were arrested as they prepared to sell the work to foreign buyers, Italy's La Repubblica daily reported.
© Agence France-Presse