The instrument, an astrolabe, was found by Christopher Marinello, a lawyer at London’s Art Loss Register.
“Usually I’m recovering stolen paintings by Matisse or Picasso – and those are a lot sexier,” Marinello told The Local on the phone from London.
“And this is a brass astrological instrument. But I must say, it’s really fascinating and so ornate. It’s amazing to think that you can still use it to tell time or to write an astrological map of the stars.”
The object was made in Germany over 400 years ago and reported stolen from the private collection at the Skokloster Castle near Stockholm in 1999.
IN PICTURES: Take a closer look at the astrolabe
From there, its journey remains mostly unknown, but it ended up in the hands of an art collector in Italy who didn’t realize the item was stolen and gave it up “in a civil fashion”, meaning he was neither convicted nor fined.
Astrolabes are inclinometers, meaning they measure tilt or slope, and this one in particular was likely used by astronomers and astrologers for mapping out the distance between planets, the sun, and the stars. The word can be traced back to Greek where it translates to Star Taker.
Museum officials will put the item on display immediately after it is returned personally on Wednesday morning by Marinello, who specializes in recovering stolen artwork and is thrilled to return to Sweden after one of his more recent recoveries also led him to Stockholm.
“The last time I was in Sweden was in January when I returned a stolen Matisse to the Moderna Museum. I’m glad to be coming again, especially for an item like this,” he said.
While the astrolabe is valued at $400,000 and one of only 2,000 in the world, these figures haven’t stopped the lawyer from taking a closer look at his catch.
“This is essentially an early astrological computer, it’s fascinating. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t taken it out once or twice for a closer look,” he told The Local with a laugh.
As for now, the “art detective” can only imagine a third visit to Sweden if the Swedish public give him a lead.
“I urge the Swedes, be it the public, collectors, or museum staff, to report anything that’s missing to the Art Loss Register. We are doing a pretty good job of recovering things right now, but I can’t do my job unless people let me know what to find.”