Four works by Lucas Cranach the Elder have been discovered at a German antique dealership 27 years after they were stolen from a Lutheran church in Klieken in East Germany. The thieves were never caught. Art experts have said that only a handful of experts would have been able to recognize the works as Cranach’s work.
This highlights again the problem of two innocents. What the brief wire reports do not say is that the antique dealer probably has superior title to the works. I’m not too familiar with German art law per se, but in most Civil law systems a good faith purchaser will have superior title to the original owner. The dealer has not done anything wrong, and neither has the Church which was victimized. As a result legal systems have a difficult time allocating rights between the two relative innocents. Once again its a reason why databases such as the Art Loss Register should be consulted every time a work of art of any kind of value is purchased. There is no indication whether the dealer consulted any art loss databases, but he should have. Provenance research is the cornerstone of a licit art market, and the best practical way to prevent art theft.