The statue of Mary Magdalene was recovered by Allied forces at the end of the war and later given to Italy
A Renaissance statue that was stolen by the Nazis and fell into the hands of Hermann Göring, the founder of the Gestapo and head of the Luftwaffe, is to be returned to its rightful owners on Friday after more than 80 years.
The 14th century statue of Mary Magdalene was discovered in Goering’s home at the end of the war by Allied forces, who catalogued it as a figure of “the Holy Virgin holding a chalice and a book”.
It was correctly identified as being the work of the Italian Renaissance sculptor Andrea della Robbia and was assumed to have been looted from Italy.
In 1954 it was given to the Italian government, who handed it over to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, where it has been ever since.
But the museum recently received queries from lawyers in Germany querying the provenance of the 3ft-tall statuette.
The Uffizi referred the case to a specialist cultural heritage unit of the Carabinieri police, who discovered that before the war it had belonged to an art gallery in Munich, Kunsthaus A S Drey, founded by two German Jews - Aron Schmava Drey and Adolf Stern.
The gallery was passed down to their sons, Franz Drey and Ludwig Stern, but they were forced to flee Germany in the 1930s under Hitler’s increasingly repressive regime.
They were compelled to cede their gallery to the Chamber of Commerce in Munich, and from there the statue ended up in the home of Göring, who was one of the Nazi regime’s most active plunderers of Jewish-owned art and artifacts across occupied Europe.
Sent to trial in Nuremberg for war crimes and crimes against humanity, he committed suicide with a capsule of cyanide in 1946.
On Friday, at a ceremony in Berlin, the statue will be handed back to their heirs by Italy’s culture minister, Dario Franceschini.
The handover, at the Martin-Gropius-Bau Museum in the German capital, will be attended by Monika Grütters, Germany’s Commissioner for Culture.