Church statue stolen in Italy found in Charlotte

A 17th c. wooden bust of St. Innocent stolen from Santa Maria degli Angeli alle Croci in Naples in November of 1990 has been found in a private home in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Officials from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency have seized the statue and will return it to Italy this month.

Two years ago, authorities in Rome contacted U.S. Customs and Enforcement officials with information that an Italian citizen had sold a similar wooden statue to an antiques dealer from Greensboro.

ICE tracked down the buyer as the owner of Caroline Faison Antiques, which specializes in 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century antiques. She purchased it at an antiques fair in France, Johnson said. […]

ICE contacted Johnson last year to see if she recognized pictures of the stolen items. She said the paint was almost gone, but she recognized the form of the bust.

When she realized it was stolen, she said she immediately bought the statue back from her customer and gave it to federal agents. Johnson said she did not get her money back from Faison, nor did she ask.

Good on her, although I can’t help but point out that if she’d actually cared to demand any kind of provenance, she could have been part of the solution right up front instead of feeding the problem.

It’s an unusual case because most of these stolen artifacts end up sold in major cities like New York. It’s also unusual in that it was found at all after so much time.

The bad news is that the bust has not been well-treated over the past 20 years. The head was lost somewhere in the voyage between Italy and France, where it was first purchased by Caroline Faison Antiques. A cross St. Innocent used to carry is also gone, as is much of the gold paint.

Santa Maria degli Angeli alle Croci will surely be delighted to have him back on the altar, even the worse for wear.