Artworks
Madonna Under the Fir Tree

Contributor

The story of this stolen Madonna by Lucas Cranach the Elder reads like a crime novel!

This much loved painting hung in the cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Wroclaw, Poland for over 400 years. However, during World War II, its owners feared its destruction by Allied air raids and the painting was removed from the cathedral.

The cathedral was indeed damaged, so after the war the painting was returned to Diocesan Museum in Wroclaw. Unfortunately, the thing was now broken in two. A priest who was also a painter and art collector was commissioned to restore it. While restoring it, he created a clever fake and made off with the real thing! He must have been absent the day they learned "Thou Shalt Not Steal."

Amazingly, the forgery went unnoticed until 1961 when someone noticed that the Madonna had developed a squint. By that time, the priest had amassed quite a collection of stolen art. Officials searched the priest’s hijacked hoard, but the beloved Madonna was missing. Over the years, rumors sprung up that it was circulating on the private art market.

Following the death of a repentant Swiss art collector, the painting was returned to it’s rightful owner, the Catholic Church. Like many church afairs, details of the donation were kept strictly under wraps.

So one of Poland’s most treasured paintings is once more hanging in the Cathedral...But authorities are hanging on to the fake just in case.