Germany has negotiated a secret deal with the descendants of a Nazi soldier to hand back a €2 million (£1.8 million) painting said to have been stolen from the Uffizi Galleries in Florence during the Second World War.
The painting, Vase of Flowers, by the 18th century Dutch artist Jan van Huysum, was looted in 1944 and is currently in the hands of an undisclosed German family.
In January, the director of the Uffizi Galleries Eike Schmidt, who is German himself, said Berlin had a moral duty to give back the painting.
To raise the profile of the case, Dr Schimdt hung a black-and-white photograph of the painting in Florence’s Palazzo Pitti, where the original was once kept, with a caption explaining that it was stolen by the Germans.
The unidentified family had reportedly demanded up to €2m for the painting, while the German authorities had said the statute of limitations on crimes more than 30 years old prevented it from intervening.
After Dr Schmidt’s public call for the painting’s return, the German government contacted the family who hold it.
On Saturday Berlin announced that Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, and his Italian counterpart Enzo Moavero will travel to Florence soon to hand the artwork back to the gallery.
The oil painting had been part of the Pitti Palace collection in Florence from 1824 until the outbreak of the Second World War.
The oil painting was stolen by German soldiers as they retreated north through Tuscany following the Allied landings at Anzio and the liberation of Rome.
The Germans took the painting to a castle in Bolzano in northern Italy, the capital of the German-speaking region of South Tyrol. It did not surface again until 1991, shortly after Germany’s reunification.
The German government argued in a legal examination that the painting had not been taken as part of organised Nazi persecution but had simply been stolen – meaning the soldier could not be seen as its owner or hand it down to his family, according to Die Zeit.
The newspaper reported that lawyers for the soldier’s family had assumed that the painting was not Nazi loot, arguing the soldier had simply bought it at a market to have something nice to send to his wife, whose home had been bombed.
No details of the agreement reached between the German government and the family have been released, although authorities had previously ruled out compensating the family.