The Real Reason We Can't Find Michelangelo's Stolen Mask Of A Faun

Great works from Italian renaissance artist Michelangelo (pictured above) now reside in some of the world's most prestigious museums and institutions. That list includes the artist's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, via Trip Savvy, and the sculptural masterpiece, "David," available for viewing at the Accademia Gallery in Florence, Italy, per "Free Tours by Foot." One of Michelangelo's most well-known pieces, however, "The Mask of a Faun," sometimes called "The Head of a Faun," can no longer be seen, and is now considered lost. The story of what happened to this great piece from one of history's most revered artists spans centuries — from the time Michelangelo died in the 1560s (via Britannica) to a very different time in Italian history, when Nazi forces occupied the country.

According to the official Michelangelo website, "Mask of a Faun" was rendered by the Italian master from another ancient example of what the faun, a creature from Greek mythology, might have looked like. Pleasing his patron Lorenzo il Magnifico, Michelangelo took some liberties in the work, modifying the expression on the face, and adding an open, laughing mouth. He even knocked out some teeth, matching how Magnifico believed someone as old as the faun might look. By the 1940s, what many experts thought was the original "Mask of a Faun," touched by Michelangelo himself, resided in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, in Florence, Italy. Prior to that, it spent decades on display in the Uffizi Gallery. It was at this time that Nazi troops of the 305th division rolled through the area.

Nazis stole it

There's some disagreement about exactly what was taken from the walls of the Museo Nazionale del Bargello by 305th division troops attached to the 10th German Army. What hung in the museum at that point was widely considered to be the original "Head of a Faun," but no one knows for sure. According to the official Michelangelo website, art historians have gone back and forth as to whether or not what hung in the Nazionale del Bargello was real, or could even be attributed to Michelangelo at all. Based on a cast of the original, however, many experts now agree that the piece was in fact Michelangelo's, and that it dated from the 15th century.

When the German 305th division was in Florence in 1944, however, they paid no mind to such disputes. According to the BBC, the Nazis were known for plundering priceless works of art from all throughout European history, and "Mask of a Faun" was no different. According to Live Science, it was loaded into the back of a Nazi transport vehicle sometime around August 23rd. From August 31st, there are no further references to the priceless work of art. Perhaps it was destroyed when allied forces invaded Germany in 1945, per National Geographic. Or maybe instead, the mask is out there somewhere, even today, waiting to be rediscovered.