"Madonna and Child" was listed for auction in January by Sotheby's
Sotheby's, after investigating the artwork, pulled the listing
It was reported missing nearly 30 years ago, after a co-owner moved it
An Interpol investigation began in 1991, but painting remained missing until this year
A 13th-century painting that was up for auction by Sotheby’s is now in the hands of the U.S. government after it was determined to have allegedly been stolen from a safe deposit box in Switzerland in 1986, according to court documents.
Sotheby’s listed “Madonna and Child,” an oil-on-panel painting, for sale in January and estimated the painting would bring between $600,000 and $800,000, according to Sotheby’s spokesperson Dan Abernethy.
Shortly after the listing, Sotheby’s performed its regular background check on the piece and discovered that it was in a database of stolen art, according to a Sotheby’s statement to CNN Wednesday.
Sotheby’s says it “immediately and voluntarily” removed the painting from auction and has “cooperated fully with the investigation.”
The painting is described as being on an engraved background, decorated with gold, dating from about 1285 to 1290. Sotheby’s had described it as sharing “an affinity with models by Duccio di Buoninsegna” (a painter of that time from the Tuscan city of Siena) but concluded that it was more likely the work of a Florentine painter influenced by Cimabue (a pioneer in the post-Byzantine style who was a contemporary of Duccio), according to documents cited in a forfeiture complaint filed this week in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office.
The artwork is primarily referred to as the “Duccio painting” in the complaint.
In 1977, according to the complaint, the painting, which at the time was jointly owned by a man and a woman, was deposited in a safe deposit box in Geneva, Switzerland.
The woman died in 1980 and her heirs designated another man to represent their interests in the painting. In 1986, the two men moved the painting to a new safety deposit box in another bank branch, according to the complaint.
Soon after, one of the co-owners gave a percentage of his ownership to two other men. Those two reported that the co-owner had again moved the artwork, but they did not know the whereabouts of the painting or the co-owner, according to the complaint.
An Interpol investigation began in 1991, but the painting was never found until it turned up listed on Sotheby’s for auction earlier this year, according to the complaint.
Sotheby’s would not respond to CNN for comment on how the auction house obtained the artwork.
Anyone who claims to have any rights to the painting must appear and show reasons to establish the claim, according to the federal complaint.
CNN was unable to contact any parties who once had ownership. No charges have been filed in the alleged theft.