Italy and Mexico Partner Up to Bring Hundreds of Stolen Paintings Back To Mexico—Because Art History Matters

March marked a major cultural win for Mexico in regards to its art history.

Earlier this month, it was announced in Rome that hundreds of paintings by unidentified artists in Mexico between the 17th and 20th centuries will be returned to Mexico. The works of art were illegally sold on the black market and taken to Italy in the 1970s.

An example of one of the painting (shown below) were often inscribed with prayers in Spanish and painted on pieces of fabric or wood.

@albertobonisoli / Instagram

At a private ceremony, Italy’s minister of culture Alberto Bonisoli returned the paintings to Mexico’s secretary of culture, Alejandra Frausto Guerrero. Guerrero emphasized the need for countries to partner and return works of art to their original country of origin. For decades, we have seen art stolen from people during wars and times of strife returned to their rightful owners around the globe.

The Italian government wants to be a leader in the restitution of art stolen around the world depriving citizens of their culture.

@albertobonisoli / Instagram

“Today we have the opportunity to return something to the Mexican government and to send a message to the rest of the world that this type of restitution marks a direction we should all take,” Bonisoli said.

Spanish newspaper El Pais reported it took almost two years of investigation and diplomatic relations to return the paintings back to Mexico.

The newspaper reported agents from the Carabinieri body for the protection of cultural history became suspicious during an exhibition in Milan and thus began a meticulous search to trace back where those art pieces had originally come from.

The Italian government had to use technology to analyze the images to determine that they were from places of worship in Mexico.

@albertobonisoli / Instagram

According to El Pais, the Carabinieri body partnered with techs from the Italian ministry of culture, began to analyze the iconography and inscription of the paintings, eventually finding that the pieces were taken from different places of worship in Mexico between the 1960s and 1970s and then sold to a wealthy Italian art collector who donated the pieces to two Italian museums after his death.

The 594 paintings are in the ex-voto style of art—a miniature painting or votive offering to a saint.

@divina.arte.chile / Instagram

Often showing the person offering this type of painting overcoming a type of physical distress, these types of paintings are common throughout much of Mexico and Latin America.

Mexican artists have been painting this type of intricate paintings for centuries and continue to do so up to today, typically using pieces of small wood or tin (materials readily available) to paint their mini obras de arte and thank the saint they want to praise.

The ongoing cultural partnership with Italy and Mexico has not only helped return these hundreds of paintings to its rightful country, but Italy is also helping Mexican art curators learn how to best preserve Mexican works of art for museum and history collection.

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