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Friday, October 26, 2007

Thieves in Brazil

Andrew Downie in Time reports on the growing theft of religious art in Brazil.

"Brazil is a particularly rich source of religious art, because during the 17th and 18th centuries it was the only art form encouraged by the country's devoutly Catholic rulers. In the states of Bahia and Pernambuco in the northeast, and Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro in the south, Portuguese settlers built baroque churches dripping with gold, silver and art. But today, much of that art is gone. "The last time I checked, we had registered 188 works of art stolen — that's since 2000," says Vanessa de Souza, a Brazilian police chief and delegate to Interpol. "We think there are a lot more that haven't been reported to us. Sometimes we see reports of thefts in the newspaper and we haven't been told officially."

Souza says some of the robberies are the work of gangs who traffic the pieces to Europe and beyond. Most, though, are done by small time crooks who fence their swag to local antique dealers, who then sell them on to private collectors. "