A Lost ‘Michelangelo’ Painting Stolen from Belgian Church Days Before Authentication

A 16th-century painting known as the Holy Family, which was set to be assessed to determine if it was Michelangelo's lost work Madonna del Silenzio, was stolen days before the authentication.

The 16th-century painting that disappeared in a Belgian church could be Michelangelo's lost work Madonna del Silenzio

Jan Van Raemdonck discovered the painting was missing days before its authentication

Jan Van Raemdonck, a 61-year-old pastor of Sint-Ludgerus church in Zele, Belgium, noticed the disappearance of the 16th-century painting from its usual position when he saw two women laying flowers in the nave of the church. According to a local newspaper, surveillance footage showed a young man stepping out onto the street with the painting on his shoulders around 5 a.m.

The pastor believed more than one burglar was involved in the robbery since the painting, measuring 145cm by 99cm, weighs 100kg.

Madonna del Silenzio (circa 1538) by Michelangelo is now exhibited at Harley Gallery

The work depicting Mary, Joseph and a sleeping baby Jesus was suspected to be a lost painting by Michelangelo when Van Raemdonck found its startling similarity to Madonna del Silenzio, a recently exhibited drawing by the Renaissance master in the collection of the Duke of Portland. He was about to send the work for an examination by Maria Forcellino, a Michelangelo expert. 

The painting was donated to the church 16 years ago by a former Belgian senator, Etienne Cooreman. The painting was thought to be worth €10,000 but Raemdonck estimated that its value could be up to €100m (£89m) if it is reattributed to the Renaissance master.

'The drawing, which is 100 percent sure of Michelangelo, shows just the same scene. That is why I thought that this too could be the work of Michelangelo, or one of his pupils.' he said.