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ROME – In a masterful mix of philanthropy, marketing, and filmmaking, Murdoch-owned pan-European Sky paybox is taking its cue from a stolen 17th Caravaggio painting on the FBI’s Top Ten Art Crimes list to launch the first high-profile production from its new Milan-based Sky Arts Production Hub.

Caravaggio’s “Nativity With St. Francis and St. Lawrence” was mysteriously abducted from a Palermo church in 1969, some say by the Sicilian Mafia.

Shortly after being established earlier this year in May, the Sky Arts hub commissioned a meticulous high-tech reproduction of the painting and at the same time started production on a documentary titled “Operation Caravaggio – Mystery of the Lost Caravaggio.”

The docu is about the various hypothesis behind the theft, the origins of the masterpiece painted by Caravaggio in 1609 after he fled to Sicily after killing another artist in a duel, and also how the certified copy was made by Factum Arte, a Madrid-based company know for making hi-tech facsimiles of major artworks including the tomb of Tutankhamun.

This December 12 the replica of the lost Caravaggio was hung back in the spot above the altar in Palermo’s Oratorio della Compagnia di San Lorenzo from which the original had been abducted 46 years earlier during a highly symbolic ceremony attended by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, a former magistrate from Sicily whose brother was gunned down the Mafia in 1980.

Among the various hypothesis surrounding the theft “there is a strong suspicion that it ended up in the hands of Cosa Nostra, based on several accounts,” said Roberto Pisoni, head of the Sky Arts Production Hub. According to one acccount “‘onetime Boss of All Bosses’ Toto Riina showed it off during Cosa Nostra meetings,” he added.

The replica was made by a team of architects and computer engineers at Factum Arte who did not have much to go on: just a slide of the painting by photographer Enzo Brai, which did not even capture the entire painting, and some black and white photographs of the Caravaggio work from the 1950s that were recently discovered in the archives of the Restoration Institute in Rome.

The layered digital print facsimile (pictured) replicates Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro palette and surface texture and is the same size as the original.

When Pisoni found out that Factum Arte had been exploring the possibility of doing the replica he said: “Wow! I want to do a documentary about this, finance the restoration of the painting, and give it back to the City of Palermo,” he recounted.

“Operation Caravaggio,” co-produced with Ballandi Arts and directed by Emanuele Flangini, will be beamed simultaneously in an as yet unspecified end-of-January slot on Sky Arts channels across the five European countries, including the UK, Italy and Germany, where Sky has some 21 million subs.