The director of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence has urged Germany to return a Dutch masterpiece stolen by Nazi troops during the Second World War.
Eike Schmidt dramatised the painting’s absence by hanging a black and white photo of the work with the label “Stolen” in three languages.
He said the still-life Vase of Flowers by Dutch artist Jan van Huysum is in the hands of a German family who have not returned it despite numerous appeals.
Instead, intermediaries for the family have demanded payment for its return to Italy.
Mr Schmidt said “the painting is already the inalienable property of the Italian state, and thus cannot be ‘bought’”.
The oil painting had been hanging as part of the Pitti Palace collection in Florence from 1824 until the outbreak of the Second World War.
It was moved for safety during the war but was stolen by retreating German troops.
It did not surface again until Germany’s reunification in 1991, when the offers to sell it back to Italy began.
“This story is preventing the wounds inflicted by World War Two and the horrors of Nazism from healing,” said Mr Schmidt, who is German.
“Germany should not apply the statute of limitations to works of art stolen during the war, and it should take measures to ensure that those works are restored to their legitimate owners.”
He called it Germany’s “moral duty” to return the artwork, adding: “I trust that the German government will do so at the earliest opportunity, naturally along with every other work of art stolen by the Nazi Wehrmacht.”