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Rembrandt, Dürer works missing from Boston Public Library

The Boston Public Library in Copley Square.

The Boston Public Library in Copley Square. (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)

Police are investigating the disappearance of two works of art worth more than $600,000, including a print of a Rembrandt self-portrait, that went missing last month from the Boston Public Library’s flagship branch in Copley Square, authorities said Tuesday.

A report from the Boston Police Department’s Anti-Corruption Unit states that officers learned in April that two prints, the one by Rembrandt and an Adam and Eve etching by Albrecht Dürer, were missing.

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The Dürer piece was valued at over $600,000, and the Rembrandt was worth between $20,000 and $30,000, according to police and library officials.

Library officials learned of the missing prints on April 8 and Boston police were immediately notified, library spokeswoman Melina Schuler said.

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Schuler wrote in an e-mail on Wednesday that the library conducted, “an initial review and search of likely locations the prints might have been misfiled, and under advisement from BPD submitted a police report on April 29.”

A police spokesman said the anti-corruption unit typically investigates suspected criminal wrongdoing by city workers. The spokesman declined to say whether a library employee was suspected of stealing the prints, however.

In a statement, the library system’s president, Amy Ryan, said officials had “recently discovered that an engraving by Albrecht Dürer and an etching by Rembrandt are missing from the Boston Public Library’s print collection. It is our hope that these two significant pieces have simply been misfiled. The curators and department staff are currently conducting a detailed search of the collection, and we are working with the Boston Police Department to determine if there is the possibility of criminal activity,” she said.

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The library is “undertaking an updated inventory of the more than 200,000 prints and drawings that make up the print collection,’’ and that it will also “conduct an independent analysis of security protocols,” she continued.

She added that “while strict procedures for viewing items in the collection are in place, it is always a balance to fulfill our obligation to make collections open to the public to study and enjoy, while preserving them and keeping them secure.”

“The collections of the Print Department, with more than 200,000 prints and drawings, are stored in designated secure areas of the Central Library at Copley Square,’’ Schuler said. “The missing prints were not on display.’’

One library employee said Tuesday that workers keep a close eye on what goes in and out of the rare book section. “You have to sit at the restricted tables to review books,” he said. “You couldn’t just walk out with anything.”

Another worker said she was not surprised to learn of the disappearance of the artworks, since “anything can happen, it’s a public space. Maybe there wasn’t enough security that time.”

Both workers declined to be named because they did not have permission to speak publicly on the matter.

According to library officials, the Dürer etching was engraved in 1504 and is approximately 8 inches by 11 inches in size. The Rembrandt self-portrait was produced in 1634 and is roughly 5 inches by 6 inches, officials said.

Dürer was a painter, printmaker, and theorist from Nuremberg who lived from 1471 to 1528, according to the website www.albrecht-durer.org.

“His watercolours mark him as one of the first European landscape artists, while his ambitious woodcuts revolutionized the potential of that medium,” the website states.

CENTENNIAL GIFT OF LANDON T. CLAY/ MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, BOSTON

An engraving from The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve, 1504

Rembrandt lived from 1606 to 1669 and his iconic paintings include “The Syndics of the Cloth Guild,” “Bathsheba,” and “Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph,” according to the website www.rembrandtpainting.net.

The library owns 30 Rembrandt prints and 105 prints by Dürer, and the works are part of the library’s “small but interesting collection of Old Master prints and drawings,” according to its website.

Councilor Joshua Zakim, who lives near the library, said he was disturbed to learn that the artwork had gone missing.

He said any disappearance “of city property I would take seriously, never mind priceless pieces of art. I’m glad to hear that the [Police Department] is investigating.”

The disappearance of the artwork comes 25 years after thieves stole $500 million worth of masterpieces from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Those paintings have never been recovered.

“It sounds like, certainly, a very serious matter,” Zakim said of the disappearance of the library artworks. “I want to make sure that I can do whatever I can in the community . . . to make sure we get to the bottom of it.”

Paul Hendry, a former trafficker of stolen art who is based in the United Kingdom, wrote in an e-mail that “most likely there was an opportunity and it was taken, by someone like a worker working inside the print area, but if indeed there has been a distinct lack of accounting then there might be more than just these two prints gone.”

Jan Ransom and Shelley Murphy of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen @globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.
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