A valuable 16th century copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Saviour of the World has been recovered by Italian police in a cupboard in a flat in Naples.
The museum from which it was stolen had no idea it was missing.
The copy of Salvator Mundi, which depicts Christ with one hand raised in a blessing and the other holding a crystal orb, is believed to have been painted by a pupil of Leonardo.
It was stolen some time in the last few months from a collection of art works inside the Basilica di San Domenico Maggiore in Naples.
The painting was of “inestimable value”, Italian police said in a statement. It was found “hidden in a bedroom” in an apartment in Naples. The owner of the flat, a 36-year-old man, was arrested not far from the property on charges of receiving stolen goods, police said.
The oil painting, which dates to the early 1500s, is believed to be by artist Giacomo Alibrandi, a member of the artistic school of Leonardo.
The museum had not noticed its theft because it had been closed for three months as a result of Italy’s coronavirus lockdown measures.
Police are trying to ascertain how it was stolen, said Giovanni Melillo, a Naples prosecutor. “It is plausible that it was a theft commissioned by an organisation working in the international art trade," he said.
Leonardo's original Salvator Mundi before its sale at Christie's in New York
Alfredo Fabbrocini, a senior police officer involved in the investigation, said: “It is very satisfying to have restored an art work of such great importance to the people of Naples.”
The original Salvator Mundi, which was attributed to Leonardo by some art experts, was sold in 2017 for a record $450 million at a Christie’s auction in New York.
But there is ongoing debate as to its authenticity and the painting has not been seen in public since it was sold.
It had been sold at an auction in London in 1958 for just £45, when it was thought it was the work of one of Leonardo’s followers.
When it was sold in 2017 there was speculation that it had been bought by a wealthy sheikh from the Gulf. There are fewer than 20 Leonardo paintings in existence.