Two stolen Van Gogh paintings valued by investigators at $100 million (£77 million) have been recovered by Italian police from the Naples mafia, it has been reported.
The works of art were stolen from an Amsterdam museum during a dramatic raid in 2002, where the thieves used a ladder and sledgehammers to break into the building.
According to the Van Gogh museum, the paintings were found during a large continuing investigation by Italian prosecutors and organised crime officials.
To the relief of many art enthusiasts, the two paintings were finally found wrapped in cloth in a safe house in the seaside town of Castellammare di Stabia, close to Pompeii.
According to Italian reports, the recovered Van Gogh artworks were among many other assets worth millions of euros seized from a Camorra organised crime group linked to cocaine trafficking.
The theft of the paintings led to criticism of security at many major art museums across the globe.
When the paintings were stolen, they were taken off the walls in the main exhibition hall in the Amsterdam museum. Security experts were confused at the time because guards had been patrolling the gallery and infra-red security systems were all in place.
Yet despite these measures, the thieves broke into the museum during the night, smashing a first-floor window with a sledgehammer.
The paintings that were recovered were ‘Seascape at Scheveningen’ (1882) and ‘Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church at Nuenen’ (1884).
‘Seascape at Scheveningen’ was one of the only two seascapes Van Gogh painted while he lived in the Netherlands. It is believed that the artwork was painted on a windy day, with grains of sand embedded in the piece. The painting shows a stormy sea and blackened sky and was painted whilst Van Gogh was staying in The Hague.
It is believed that ‘Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church at Nuenen’ was painted for the artist's parents, after his father had become a pastor at the church in the 1882.
Two years later, when Van Gogh's father passed away, the artist added churchgoers to the painting, including a couple of women wearing shawls for mourning.
Director of the Van Gogh Museum, Axel Rüger, said the museum owed a debt of gratitude to both Dutch and Italian authorities.
He said: "The paintings have been found! That I would be able to ever pronounce these words is something I had no longer dared to hope for."
Months before the paintings were recovered, police had arrested several suspected drug traffickers who had invested their proceeds in Dubai, Spain and the Isle of Man. It was reported that they had connections to one of the largest mafia clans in northern Naples.
During this time, suspected drugs gang leader Raffaele Imperiale and Mario Cerrone were arrested. It is believed that Mr Cerrone then told investigators about the Van Gogh paintings.