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Castle Recovers Art Treasure Decade After Thief’s Suicide

Skokloster Castle near Stockholm
Skokloster Castle near Stockholm reported a number of thefts in the 1990s and early 2000s. An astrolabe that went missing in 1999 and was suspected to have been stolen by a librarian at the Royal Library will be returned this week. Source: Skokloster Castle via Bloomberg

A Renaissance astronomical device worth at least $400,000 will this week return to the Swedish castle it was stolen from 14 years ago, said Christopher Marinello, a lawyer specialized in recovering lost art.

The astrolabe, used to tell the time and map stars and planets, went missing from Skokloster Castle near Stockholm in 1999, said Marinello, who works with the Art Loss Register in London. Swedish authorities strongly suspect the thief was Anders Burius, a librarian who committed suicide after confessing to a number of thefts in 2004, Marinello said. Nobody has been charged with stealing the astrolabe.

“This instrument is an important part of our collection and has been at Skokloster Castle for more than 300 years,” Bengt Kylsberg, the curator of the museum, said by telephone. “It is one of the oldest astrolabes in Europe.”

Burius, the chief of Sweden’s Royal Library’s Manuscript Department, stole at least 56 rare or one-of-a-kind volumes in 10 years of employment there, according to U.S. court documents. He was employed at Skokloster Castle as a guide during the summer season in the 1980s and 1990s, Kylsberg said.

Shortly after confessing to the library thefts, he severed the gas line to his kitchen stove in his apartment, slit his wrists and ignited the gas. The ensuing explosion in central Stockholm caused a dozen serious injuries and neighboring homes were evacuated.

Armani Suits

Before his death, Burius “told police that he quickly sold the stolen items to support his lifestyle of Armani suits, Cuban cigars, and Mercedes Benzes,” Marinello said.

The astrolabe, which is made of gilt brass, signed by Martinus Weiler and dated 1590, reemerged when an Italian collector who planned to sell it in London conducted a search with the Art Loss Register’s database of stolen art, Marinello said.

Skokloster, which describes itself as one of the world’s greatest Baroque castles, is still missing a gilt brass inclinometer dating from 1643 taken from its collection, according to the statement. No one was charged with theft of the items, though they were reported to Interpol and the Art Loss Register, Marinello said.

Two precious books stolen by Burius were returned to the Royal Library in Stockholm last month in New York after the antique book seller in Baltimore who purchased them agreed to hand them over to the FBI.

The books, a 1683 description of Louisiana in French written by Louis Hennepin, including maps and produced on the orders of the king; and a 19th-century illustrated volume about the Mississippi valley in German, were together valued at about $255,000.

Muse highlights include Manuela Hoelterhoff on arts, Scott Reyburn on art auctions, James Clash on adventure, James Russell on architecture and John Mariani on wine.

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