Stolen Painting of Jesus Found on eBay

A stolen oil painting that was returned to Poland on April 16, 2014, shows Jesus ascending into heaven. (Image credit: Mission of the United States of America to Poland)

An 18th-century painting that was stolen from a church in Poland two decades ago was recovered after it turned up for sale on eBay, federal authorities say.

The looted painting went missing from the Saint Martin Roman Catholic Church in Siciny sometime between 1988 and 1996. Then, in 2012, it showed up on eBay with bids starting at $22,000 and a "Buy it Now" price listed as $35,750.

Officials with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) looked into the case and determined that the artwork had been smuggled into the United States. Agents in Brooklyn, N.Y., recovered the painting. [9 Famous Art Forgers]

No one was arrested or charged in the case, as the seller was not the original owner of the painting nor had any knowledge of the theft, a spokeswoman for ICE said. The artwork had belonged to the seller's father, who claimed he received it as partial payment for some plumbing supplies, though he was unable to identify the person who gave it to him, the spokeswoman told Live Science in an email.

Painted on an oval-shaped wooden board measuring 9 by 12 inches (23 by 30 centimeters), the "Ascension of Christ" shows a familiar scene in Christian art: Jesus' resurrected body ascending into heaven as his apostles kneel below.

During a ceremony in Warsaw last week, U.S. officials handed the painting over to Piotr Zuchowski, Poland's secretary of state of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.

"The theft of this cherished painting has been a great loss to the people of Poland," HSI Office of International Affairs Deputy Assistant Director David Thompson said in a statement. "After all these years, it is now going back where it belongs — to the people of Poland. Homeland Security Investigations will continue its commitment to protecting the world's cultural heritage by investigating looted or stolen cultural property and art and returning it to its rightful owners."

Editor's note: The story was updated at 5:00 p.m. EDT to add comments from an ICE spokeswoman.

Follow Megan Gannon on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescienceFacebook Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Megan Gannon
Live Science Contributor
Megan has been writing for Live Science and since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.