Louvre recovers 16th-century armour more than 35 years after it was stolen

The ceremonial helmet and breastplate were believed to have been made in Milan and are worth more than $600,000

This picture taken on March 3, 2021, shows a breastplate and a ceremonial helmet during their official restitutions by the French Central Directorate of the Judicial Police (DCPJ) to the Louvre Museum, in Paris. A breastplate and a ceremonial helmet, two "exceptional" objects from the Italian Renaissance, were handed over by the police to the Louvre museum after being found in Bordeaux during an auction linked to an estate. These objects, which belonged to the collection of the Baroness de Rothschild, had been donated to the Louvre in 1922 and stolen in 1983. Estimations say they worth around 500,000 euros. / AFP / Thomas SAMSON

The Louvre Museum in Paris has recovered a set of gold and silver-encrusted Renaissance-era armour nearly 40 years after it was stolen.

A military antiques expert alerted police after being called in to give advice regarding an inheritance in Bordeaux in January and becoming suspicious about the luxurious helmet and body armour in the family's collection.

Police later identified the items from a database of stolen artworks as having been taken from the Louvre on May 31, 1983, in circumstances that remain a mystery.

Jean-Luc Martinez, president of the Louvre Museum, holds an ancient breastplate during its official restitution in Paris, on March 3, 2021. A breastplate and a ceremonial helmet, two "exceptional" objects from the Italian Renaissance, were handed over by the police to the Louvre museum after being found in Bordeaux during an auction linked to an estate. These objects, which belonged to the collection of the Baroness de Rothschild, had been donated to the Louvre in 1922 and stolen in 1983. Estimations say they worth around 500,000 euros. / AFP / Thomas SAMSON

Bordeaux prosecutors are now investigating how they ended up in the family's estate.

The armour and helmet are thought to have been made in Milan between 1560 and 1580. They were donated to the Louvre in 1922 by the Rothschild family.

Estimations say the pieces are worth about €500,000 ($603,000).

"I was certain we would see them reappear one day because they are such singular objects. But I could never have imagined that it would work out so well – that they would be in France and still together," said Philippe Malgouyres, the Louvre's head of heritage artworks, on Wednesday.

"They are prestige weapons, made with virtuosity, sort of the equivalent of a luxury car today. In the 16th century, weapons became works of very luxurious art. Armour became an ornament that had nothing to do with its use."

There are 100,000 objects on France's database of global stolen artworks, with 900 added last year alone.

According to Jean-Luc Martinez, president-director of the Louvre, the last theft from the world's most-visited museum was in 1998, a portrait by 19th-century French artist Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.

"We're still looking for it," Martinez said.