VERONA, Italy, Nov. 20 (UPI) -- A group of masked men made off with as much as $16 million worth of artwork in an Italian heist of Thomas Crown-like proportions, authorities said Friday.
The bandits hit the Museo Civico di Castelvecchio in Verona as it was closing Thursday evening, officials said, forcing their way inside. Once inside, they tied up the security guard and a female employee and stole at least 15 paintings.
Officials said they hit the museum before its alarm was activated, which might indicate that the robbers had prior inside knowledge of the facility. No one was hurt in the robbery.
Surveillance video footage captured the bandits as they pulled the artwork off the walls. Some canvases they left in their frames, and others they removed and rolled up.
Authorities believe the heist may have been carried out on the orders of a private collector, Britain's Telegraph reported Friday. The reason for that theory is the fact that it will be nearly impossible for the bandits to sell the paintings they stole.
"It's as if you broke into the Uffizi Galleries and stole a Botticelli. You couldn't sell it on the open market," historian Tomaso Montanari said. "It's certainly the most serious theft in the history of Italian art."
The mayor of the northern Italian town, where the museum is located, agrees.
"Someone sent them," Verona Mayor Flavio Tosi said. "They were skilled, they knew exactly where they were going."
Among the missing art is Rubens' "Portrait of a Lady" and Tintoretto's "Male Portrait." The robbers escaped from the fortified museum in the security guard's vehicle without ever firing a shot.
"It's one of the gravest art thefts ever," art expert Vittorio Sgarbi said.