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Spanish police find missing piece of 17th century art stolen in 1980

Spanish police find missing piece of 17th century art stolen in 1980
Spanish authorities announce the recovery of the final piece of the tapestry, seen at right. Photo courtesy Policia Nacionale

Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Authorities in Spain say they have recovered the final piece of a tapestry from the 1600s that was stolen decades ago by an art thief known as "Erik the Belgian."

The tapestry, La apoteosis de las artes -- or "the Apotheosis of the Arts" -- was one of six Flemish tapestries taken from the church of Santo Domingo in northern Spain in 1980.

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The tapestries were made in 1654 by Cornielle Schutz and stolen by Rene Alponse van den Berghe, who became known as "Erik the Belgian."

All six tapestries were recovered during an investigation led by Interpol with agencies from France, Spain and Belgium working together, but a section of La apoteosis de las artes picturing a cherub was still missing.

The part was feared lost until van den Berghe died in 2020 and his lawyer handed over the missing piece to the archdiocese of Burgos on Friday, Spanish police said in a statement.

Spain's national police described van den Berghe as an art dealer, restorer, painter, writer and international thief who carried out robberies in churches and chapels throughout the country. He was also the alleged leader of an organized group of thieves who stole religious artwork for wealthy collectors.

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Though van den Berghe was arrested in 1982, he was released three years later for cooperating with authorities on tracking works that he'd stolen.

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