A 500-year-old painting that was stolen from a Jewish family by the Nazis during World War II has been returned to its rightful owners by U.S. officials, the Associated Press reported.
The 16th century Baroque painting, Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rascal, belonged to the Italian Jewish family of Federico Gentili di Giuseppe, who died in 1940 after the Nazis occupied France.
The painting was one from Giuseppe's extensive collection. It dates back to circa 1538 and depicts Christ crowned in thorns dressed in silk, carrying a wooden cross.
The painting -- worth millions -- was illegally auctioned off by the French Vichy Government in 1941. Giuseppe's grandchildren filed a lawsuit in 1997 to get the painting back, according to Reuters.
Over the years, the painting has been making its rounds through museums across the world. First, it appeared in the PinaCoteca di Brera museum in Milan, Italy and later found its way to the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science in Tallahassee, Fla., Reuters reported.
The painting was seized from the museum by U.S officials in November after they received a tip from the museum suggesting the painting might have been stolen.
On Wednesday, the painting was returned to the family. Seventy years is a very long time ... But it shows that it is never too late to right a wrong, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Susan McCormick told reporters.
The six heirs of the painting plan to auction it off at Christie's New York on June 6, according to the AP. It could be sold for up to $3.5 million, according to the family.
The painting is one of 2,500 works of art that the Homeland Security Investigations officials have repatriated to 23 countries since 2007, NBC.com reports.
"Christ Carrying the Cross" by Italian artist Girolamo de' Romani is pictured at a news conference in Tallahassee, Florida April 18, 2012. The 474-year-old painting was returned to its owner's heirs on Wednesday ending a 15-year international effort to return the stolen work to its rightful Jewish owners. Reuters
Corinne Hershkovitch, legal representative of the family of Federico Gentili di Giuseppe, Homeland Security of Investigations (HSI) Special Agent in Charge Susan McCormick and US Attorney Pamela Marsh (L-R) pose next to the painting "Christ Carrying the Cross" by Italian artist Girolamo de' Romani after signing papers to return it to its rightful heirs in Tallahassee, Florida April 18, 2012 Reuters