It took a clamorous news story for the world to discover the wonders of the Castelvecchio Museum in Verona. The most amazing Art heist in Italy of the current millennium took place on the 19th of November 2015. Some thieves broke into the museum at dusk armed with pistols. They made off with 17 paintings that hung on the walls, including masterpieces by Rubens, Mantegna, Jacopo, Tintoretto, Bellini and Caroto among others. The robbers then vanished into the night by car.
It was a multi-million Euro loss and a shock for Verona. I myself, as many other fellow citizens, also felt a sense of guilt. This is because up until the time of the theft, I did not know that the museum held such masterpieces, even though I had visited there many times from childhood on.
It took months to identify the perpetrators and more time still to locate the stolen artworks, which were found in May of 2016 in the Ukraine. One had to wait until the days leading up to Christmas 2016 to see the paintings returned to Verona after a long diplomatic operation. It was cause for great celebration and relief. But, it also provided an opportunity to rediscover the treasures held inside the Castelvecchio.
Castelvecchio is the former home of the Scaligeri, lords of Verona who ruled the city in the middle ages and before it was conquered by the Republic of Venice. It is a site of great fascination. This is because it is fairly rare to see so imposing and well preserved a manor in the city centre, complete with a moat (alas, nowadays, no longer filled with water) and a drawbridge. It is located along Corso Cavour (the ancient Via Postumia) and borders on the Adige, which you can cross via the castle’s magnificent pedestrian footbridge, one of the city’s main attractions.
The Castelvecchio Museum is located in a large building, inside the perimeter of the Castle, which was restored in the 1950s by the great architect Carlo Scarpa. Its 29 rooms are open to the public and hold collections of medieval, renaissance and modern art, but also ancient weaponry, armour and gear. Even just a walk through the museum allows you to appreciate the magnificent architecture of the castle. You can then go outside along the battlements to see the towers, hanging gardens and walkways used by lookouts.
As noted before, you can afterwards admire the true masterpieces inside, including the previously stolen paintings which are once again a fully-fledged part of the museum’s heritage. Of the 17 stolen works, four are of particularly great and recognised artistic value: the “Madonna della Quaglia” attributed to Pisanello, “St. Jerome the Penitent” by Giovanni Bellini, the “Holy Family with a Saint” by Andrea Mantegna and “Portrait of a Youth with a Drawing” by Giovanni Francesco Caroto.
The latter, in particular, has become a symbol of the museum’s legacy, which many considered irretrievably lost immediately after the robbery. This painting from 1523 seems very modern and is considered by critics as unique in the history of the Renaissance for its realistic rather than idealised representation of childhood. For that reason, it has also become one my favourite works in the Castelvecchio Museum. I must confess, I didn’t know of it up until a few months ago. But, if there is one lesson the art theft taught Verona, it is to learn about, value and protect the many treasures preserved within the museum’s walls, no matter how little known or well hidden.