March 17th, 1990, was not just any Saturday in Boston. They were celebrating Saint Patrick, the patron saint of the city as well as Ireland.
Saint Patrick’s Day is an important celebration in the United States, where the descendants of Irish immigrants, from various times in history, have celebrated this day since 1737. Throughout the day until late in the evening, South Boston would become the Temple Bar district of Dublin, where the tradition began. There was a constant coming and going of locals, tourists and children sitting on the shoulders of their parents to watch the parades of the bagpipes and traditional clothes – a noisy multitude of races and religions united for a day under the green color of the Irish missionary bishop who was elevated to Sainthood.
The Concert is a painting created by the enigmatic Dutch artist Jan Vermeer between 1663 and 1666. This work is of particular artistic relevance, in which the Delft master refines his style by placing even greater attention on the complexity of shapes and light. The painting portrays three distinct subjects inside a room, a gentleman in military clothes who is playing a stringed instrument, with his back to the viewer, and two women dressed elegantly. One is playing the harpsichord and the other holds a score with one hand, while with the other accompanies her singing. The use of light is simply incredible – it is only slightly perceived coming in from a window, highlighting incredible details such as the dress of the woman playing the harpsichord.
Auctioned off in Amsterdam in 1780, nothing was known of the painting until 1892 when it was bought by the eccentric philanthropist Isabella Stewart Gardner, an art collector who owned the museum of the same name located at 25 Ewans Way in Boston. Near this address, just a few minutes before midnight, on March 17th, 1990, an anonymous black Buick, after driving twice around Ewans Park, a small park in front of the museum, stopped on the right side of the Street. For a few seconds the headlights stayed on and then went off. It had started to rain again and inside the car the presence of two occupants would have been difficult to see. The man sitting on the passenger side lit a cigarette, and the flash of the lighter briefly revealed the details of a military or police cap. In the dark the two men were black silhouettes, motionless, the only source of light was the dim glow of the cigarette, which illuminated the interior and then disappeared slowly after every mouthful. Shortly after midnight the car doors opened, two men in police uniforms emerged, approaching the museum entrance along a short avenue that separates the building from the road.
Inside the Stewart Gardner Museum, two armed security guards alternated between the monitor station at the entrance to the museum next to the ticket office and their security patrol among the rooms. The still images of the artwork switched with those of the deserted driveway in their boring routine. A few minutes after midnight, on March 18th, from the pitch black of Ewan Street, under a pouring rain, two figures advanced towards the entrance of the museum. They appeared to be two colleagues, however no change or inspection was planned that evening, so the video surveillance officer maneuvered the lever to activate the movement of the external camera and the zoom. The light was rather poor, but the uniforms of the two individuals clearly show the badges of the Boston police. The sound of the intercom broke the silence. The guard on watch rushed to the entrance while the colleague was getting ready to answer the call.
– Good evening, we’re from the Boston police
– What can we do for you, officer?
– We had a report of strange movements around here.
– It’s all quiet here.
– Better to check, just a matter of a few minutes
Without thinking too much, and neglecting the first rule they had learned during their security course: “never open to strangers at night, for whatever the reason”, the security guard pressed the open button and exited the guardhouse to meet the two policemen, who in the meantime were already inside with their guns in hand, firmly telling the two unguarded security guards to raise their hands. Unarmed, handcuffed and evidently under shock, they demanded,
– Sorry, but why are you arresting us? We didn’t do anything!
– We are arrest you because this is a robbery.
Answered one of the two fake policemen, while he pulled out a roll of adhesive tape with which he immobilized and gagged the two, taking care not to choke them. Once the guards had been neutralized, the two thieves headed safely to the room where the most valuable piece of the collection was displayed. The Concert was removed from the wall with the utmost attention, with the frame detached and then placed inside a rigid container that had been specially prepared. The camera that had remained set on the driveway, now filmed the two men’s back as the returned to the back from where they had first come.
Since that night in 1990, there has been no news of the Vermeer painting. To date, most of the leads followed by the FBI, including those that suggested international involvement, have turned out to be false or unfounded. Only the lead connected to Italian-American organized crime is still being followed, with the names of the gangster Carmelo Merlino and David Turner, who deny any charges. The most convincing argument holds that Turner hid the paintings from his godfather, Robert Guarente, who, once he had fallen ill, gave them to his dear friend Robert Gentile. The latter denies his involvement, however during an interrogation in front of the lie detector, he appears to have lied. Despite extensive investigations, searches that have spared none of the suspects or the characters that were also indirectly connected to them, the frame inside the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum remains empty today. The Concert still remains one of the world’s most sought-after works of art.
The Simpsons Show put Mr. Burns in possession of Vermeer’s The Concert