ATHENS: Greek officials on Thursday presented a 17th-century oil sketch attributed to Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens, a week after its discovery by police following its theft from Belgium a decade ago.
The painting, “The Calydonian Boar Hunt”, had been snatched from the Fine Arts Museum of Ghent in Belgium in 2001, Citizen's Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis told a news conference.
Greek police were first alerted to its presence some two weeks ago, he said.
It was kept by a 40-year-old television show host and a 65-year-old former antiquarian who had tried to sell it in Athens to undercover officers for six million euros ($8.4 million).
The pair, who have been charged with attempted money-laundering but are not suspected of the actual theft, were released with travel bans on Tuesday as Belgian authorities had yet to file a claim for the painting, a justice source said.
Both suspects deny any wrongdoing.
The 40-year-old woman from Rhodes said she was offered the work by an Italian lover in 2003 who said it was a copy, while the ex-dealer said he too was unaware of the painting's history.
The Greek culture ministry had earlier described the stolen piece as an actual Rubens painting, though the Belgian museum says the latest research suggests it was probably made by members of his entourage.
“It is an artwork from Rubens' workshop, by one of his students, among others, and based on a design by Rubens,” Belgian ambassador Marc Van Den Reeck told AFP.
“The museum will be very pleased to get it back after 10 years, and will do what is necessary to reclaim it as fast as possible through the normal diplomatic channels,” he said.
Culture ministry officials declined to be drawn into the issue on Thursday.
“The debate does not concern us, this is no doubt the stolen artwork,” said the head of Greece's National Gallery, Marina Lambraki-Plaka.
“It was purchased as a Rubens, it was exhibited as a Rubens, tickets from the museum were charged for people to see a Rubens, it was stolen as a Rubens, and we've searched it as a Rubens,” added Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos.
The painting was one of two artworks grabbed by thieves from the Belgian museum.
On their way out, the robbers dropped the more valuable piece, “The Flagellation of Christ”, but ran away with “The Calydonian Boar Hunt”, which at the time of the theft was worth an estimated 200,000 euros ($283,000).