May 20, 2013 9:42 AM

11 Most Famous Art Crimes of All Time

This 4,000-year-old headless statue of King Entemena of Lagash was returned to Iraq by the United States in a July 2006 ceremony. Seven years later, the FBI still places a premium on information regarding some 7,000 to 10,000 Iraqi artifacts that went missing during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

11-Thousands of Iraqi Artifacts

This 4,000-year-old headless statue of King Entemena of Lagash was returned to Iraq by the United States in a July 2006 ceremony. Seven years later, the FBI still places a premium on information regarding some 7,000 to 10,000 Iraqi artifacts that went missing during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. An estimated 15,000 artifacts — everything from pottery to headdresses — were looted from the Iraq National Museum at the time. Syria and Jordan have since returned thousands of pieces.

The 2.5-foot-tall stone statue, one of the most important pieces stolen, entered the U.S. by way of Syria thanks to an operation involving the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, according to multiple news reports at the time.

10- Thirteen Pieces From Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Estimated value: $300 million

The 1990 theft of 13 pieces from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum “remains the largest property crime in U.S. history,” according to the FBI. On March 18, 1990, two thieves dressed as Boston policemen were allowed into the museum, where they handcuffed and duct-taped two security guards, according to the museum’s website. The stolen art included five Degas paintings, three Rembrandts and a Vermeer (The Concert, pictured here).

“We’ve determined in the years after the theft that the art was transported to the Connecticut and Philadelphia regions. But we haven’t identified where the art is right now,” Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, said at a March 18, 2013, news conference — one month before he would lead the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombings.

9- Four Pieces From Museu da Chacara do Ceu

Estimated value: $45 million, according to the Telegraph

As revelers celebrated Rio de Janeiro’s carnival in February 2006, armed robbers broke into the Museu da Chacara do Ceu and stole its four most valuable paintings: Dali’s The Two Balconies(pictured here), Matisse’s Luxembourg Gardens, Picasso’s The Dance and Monet’s Marine. The thieves threatened security guards with a hand grenade and disabled security cameras, the BBC reported.

“They took advantage of a carnival parade passing by the museum and disappeared into the crowd,” museum director Vera de Alencar told the BBC. Alencar said the thieves were probably specialists from international gangs.

8- Two Pieces From Van Gogh Museum

Estimated value: $30 million

Two men climbed onto the roof of Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum to break in at around 8 a.m. on December 7, 2002. The thieves set off museum alarms but were too quick for the security guards, according to the museum’s website. They left with Van Gogh’s View of the Sea at Scheveningen (pictured here) and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, both painted between 1853 and 1890.

In July 2004, a Dutch court convicted two men of the theft, sentencing Octave “The Monkey” Durham to four and a half years in jail and Henk Bieslijn to four years, the Associated Press reported. The paintings remain missing.

7- Caravaggio, ‘Nativity with San Lorenzo and San Francesco’

Estimated value: $20 million

The Mafia is widely believed to be responsible for the 1969 theft of this classic. Cut from its frame in the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily, the painting hasn’t been seen in public since, but it has popped up in at least a couple of Mafia-related trials: Two mafiosi-turned-informants testified separately in 1996 and 2009 that the mob had stolen and damaged the painting. The FBI holds out hope.

6- Cezanne, ‘View of Auvers-sur-Oise’

Estimated value: $4.5 million

The Y2K of the art world, this heist went down as fireworks ushered in the new millennium on December 31, 1999. Thieves lowered themselves through the glass roof at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, to steal the oil-on-canvas, painted between 1879 and 1882, the BBC reported.

“Whoever has taken this painting has given some thought to how to steal it,” Oxford Police Superintendent John Carr told the BBC. “The person has some reason for it and some outlet for it.”

5- Two Vanderbilt Whitney Murals

Estimated value: $4 million

These two 64-by-74-inch panels were cut from their frames and stolen overnight from a West Hollywood, California, gallery in July 2002. Maxfield Parrish painted the murals between 1912 and 1916 as part of a seven-piece set for sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

“These lost masterworks are of extreme artistic importance, and their loss goes past a dollar amount. We’ve also lost a piece of our American cultural heritage,” then-FBI Deputy Assistant Director Deborah Pierce said when the panels were added to the Top 10 list in 2005.

4- Davidoff-Morini Stradivarius

Estimated value: $3 million

The prized possession of renowned violinist Erica Morini, left, was reported stolen in October of 1995, a month before the 91-year-old musician died. This violin, made by Antonio Stradivari in 1727, was taken from a locked closet in Morini’s Fifth Avenue apartment, and Morini died without knowing about the robbery, the New York Times reported.

Stradivarius violins are considered the best ever made and are prone to thefts. Joshua Bell’s Strad was stolen twice before he legally purchased it, he told Bloomberg News. In 2010, violinist Min-Jin Kym’s $1.5 million Strad was stolen from her in a London Pret a Manger.

3- Van Mieris, ‘A Cavalier’

Estimated value: More than $1 million

This 6.5-by-8-inch self-portrait was stolen from the Art Gallery of New South Wales sometime between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on June 10, 2007. The Sydney, Australia, gallery was open to the public when the thief “expertly removed it from its mounting” and left undetected, according to the gallery’s website. Gallery director Edmond Capon holds a facsimile in this 2007 file photo.

“Please be on the lookout, no matter where you live in the world, for the 350-year-old painting,” an FBI statement said one month later, when the Bureau added the “tiny” portrait to its Top 10 list.

2- Renoir, ‘Madeleine Leaning on Her Elbow with Flowers in Her Hair’

Estimated value: $1 million

A masked robber armed with a large caliber, semi-automatic handgun stole this oil painting from a home in Houston on Sept. 8, 2011, according to the FBI. The thief, an 18- to 26-year-old white male, requested money and jewelry from the female homeowner before demanding the 1918 oil, ABC News local station KTRK reported. He left with the painting in its frame. She wasn’t hurt.

The owner’s art collection was moved to a gallery after the robbery, KTRK reported.

1- A Larcenous Frame of Mind

She was smiling when she was kidnapped. Or was she?

When three men snatched the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911, the theft caused panic in Paris and made headlines around the world. The painting’s disappearance, and its recovery more than two years later, remains the best-known art crime in history. Yet it’s far from the only one. The FBI estimates that art crimes today total as much as $6 billion a year globally, Bloomberg’s Phil Mattingly reports. It’s such a big problem that the FBI established an art crime unit in 2004.

Here, in ascending order by estimated value, are the FBI’s top 10 art crimes under investigation. (All estimates are according to the FBI unless otherwise noted.)

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