The Kidnapped Child
A whirlwind kidnapping, an unexpected return, and an unsolved mystery
What he is and where he is
Who was the child kidnapped in Urbino in 1982? Where had he been taken? Where had he been kept for so many years in great secrecy? Some questions can be answered immediately. His name was Antonio. His presence was so discreet, mute, taken for granted, that on the morning of that March 16, when he was abducted, no one noticed. But when the distraction due to habit was driven back, the alarm went off. Antonio was no longer there. Dismay was followed by denunciations, reports, searches, newspaper clamor, grief. And then, slowly, resignation.
Why it is special
Our point of departure and arrival is Urbino Cathedral, the Cathedral named after Santa Maria Assunta. Inside are housed works of gargantuan value, but one above all has always had a special charm. Entering, on the right, is Federico Barocci's large painting of St. Sebastian, a work admired for its sublime workmanship: the hues of the colors are the unmistakable signature of the Urbino painter, while the movement of the figures depicted in it makes the work dynamic and powerful. And then there is him: below, on the left, a child watching and supervising you.
Not to be missed
When he painted The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian Federico Barocci was 24 years old. We are just over the middle of the 1500s. The work unfolds with great richness of human figures, each character on the canvas helping to give movement to the scene. All except one: the child present at the bottom, on the left. He is Antonio Bonaventura, one of the commissioner's sons. Serious, direct gaze to those from outside admiring the masterpiece. It is as if he is inviting you to look at the painting, but at the same time keeping you at a distance. And someone had fallen in love with him specifically, deciding to have him abducted.
A bit of history
Let's go back to that morning of March 16, 1982. The first Mass in the Cathedral took place at seven o'clock. Few people present, mostly elderly. A little dimness, a little torpor of the start of the day. Spring is on its way. No one notices a shadow moving swiftly, by committee. Everything is studied to the smallest detail: four precise, surgical movements leave a hole in the canvas: 40 cm X 40 cm. A professional job. Lupin and Fujiko would shudder. The abduction is accomplished. After centuries, looking from enigmatic to incredulous, Antonio leaves Urbino.
In 1982 Giancarlo Ciaroni is a young antiques dealer. Urbino's sensational theft intrigues him and he sets out to find Antonio. Between auction houses, sales, private collections and market exhibitions, that Barocci fragment may suddenly come out. In 2017, the turning point: perhaps the child's gaze becomes unbearable day by day, and whoever owns it cannot stand the guilt and decides to get rid of it. The portrait appears in the catalog of an auction house in Genoa. The starting value is deceptive: 500 euros. Ciaroni does not miss it and reports it to the authorities: Antonio can go home.