The classical music world was rocked this week by news of the brazen theft of a 300-year-old Stradivarius violin from Frank Almond, the concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Almond was attacked with a stun gun after a performance, and the robber made off with his violin, known as the Lipinski Stradivarius. The current rightful owners are anonymous people described by Almond as having "strong ties to Milwaukee" (they loaned the instrument to Almond indefinitely). Although it's hard to assess the value of the lost violin, a similar instrument was sold at auction in 2006 for $3.5 million. Ironically, as the Journal Sentinel points out, whoever stole the violin won't likely be able to recover that value — the legitimate market for such instruments is tiny. "It can't be easily sold for even a fraction of its value," Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn told the paper, adding that "this is a potentially international crime."
In the gallery above, we've collected some other famous stolen works of art from over the years — some since recovered, and others still at large.
Of course, this kind of one-off purloining isn't the only kind of art theft — throughout history, colonial powers and armies of all sorts have helped themselves to the artwork and artifacts of the countries they find themselves in. Napoleon's various conquests were famously followed by a systematic looting of the finest works of art from the nations his armies conquered, like Rembrandt's Descent from the Cross, taken from Hesse-Kassel in what's now Germany. And many treasures from the various parts of the British Empire made their way back to England; the British Museum in London is currently home to over 100,000 Egyptian artifacts. Indeed, in recent years, Egypt has often asked that certain objects, like the Rosetta stone, be returned (in a joint statement, over 30 of the world's largest museums declared, "objects acquired in earlier times must be viewed in the light of different sensitivities and values reflective of that earlier era.")
Hitler's Nazi Germany is among the most notorious when it comes to the plunder of cultural artifacts: from 1933 until the Allied victory in 1945, the German army had units set up to secure and preserve foreign plunder. A new film called The Monuments Men, scheduled to be released next month, tells the story of an Allied group called the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program, which attempted to save pieces of art from falling into Nazi hands. Here's the film's trailer:
Questions concerning the safeguarding of art in war continue to this day. Following the invasion of Iraq, Colonel Matthew Bogdanos of the U.S. Marine Corps led a team that ultimately recovered about 10,000 artifacts looted from the Iraq Museum. He wrote about those efforts in a 2006 memoir called Thieves of Baghdad: One Marine's Passion to Recover the World's Greatest Stolen Treasures.
Oh, and if you do have any information about the violin, Milwaukee Police ask that you call them at 414-935-7360.