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Italian masterpiece returns to Jewish man’s heirs

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (AP) ― U.S. authorities ended a more than 70-year-old art drama Wednesday when they returned a 16th century masterpiece to the heirs of a Jewish man after they sought for years to reclaim the painting wrested away during World War II.

A grandson of Federico Gentili di Giuseppe listened in via teleconference from London as American authorities signed the documents transferring over the Baroque painting titled “Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rogue.’’

“You did right a wrong and we are very grateful for that,’’ the grandson, Lionel Salem, told U.S. officials assembled in the federal courthouse in Tallahassee.

U.S. officials had seized the painting last fall while waiting for a federal judge to rule on the ownership of the painting. After signing over custody on Wednesday to the family, the painting was given to representatives of Christie’s, the art auction house.

The family announced that Christie’s would sell the painting at an auction this June, saying the art house has estimated it could fetch as much as $3.5 million.

Federico Gentili di Giuseppe, an Italian of Jewish descent, purchased the painting by Girolamo Romano, an artist also known as Romanino, at a 1914 auction in Paris. The painting, which is believed to date to1538, depicts Christ, crowned with thorns and wearing a copper silk robe, carrying the cross while being dragged along by a rope.

The man amassed a large collection of paintings that he displayed at his home in Paris. But he died of natural causes a few weeks before the Nazis stormed into France in 1940, which forced members of his family to flee the country.