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Two marble angels stolen from church in 1989 are returned to Italy

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The 17th century marble angels were stolen in 1989.
The 17th century marble angels were stolen in 1989.   -   Copyright  Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage via AP

A British art collector has returned two 17th-century marble angels to Italy after learning that they were stolen.

The winged "putti" were taken from the Saint Sebastian church in Guardia Sanframondi, northeast of Naples, in December 1989.

The art collector bought the pair from a Neapolitan antique shop two decades ago but has now returned them to Italian authorities.

Italy's carabinieri said the unnamed collector had tried to resell the angels to a shop in Avignon in France before he moved to Portugal.

French art police then flagged the items as potentially stolen goods. They were formally handed over to Italy at a ceremony at the French Embassy on Tuesday.

The carabinieri said the angels, decorated with a vine of leaves and fruit, were likely stolen as part of numerous thefts after the 1980 Irpinia earthquake levelled huge swaths of southern Italy.

Police added that the collector was ignorant of the angels’ origin and had offered to return them without any legal fight.

Another set of similarly stolen marble angels were recently returned to another Guardia Sanframondi church after they were located in a Milan antiques shop and recognised by the church pastor.