Why are there empty frames in Christ Church Picture Gallery?

Looking around the Picture Gallery, visitors will be struck by two empty frames on the gallery wall. During a burglary on 14 March 2020, three paintings were stolen from Christ Church Picture Gallery, leaving behind their shattered frames. 

Painting ‘A Rocky Coast, with Soldiers Studying a Plan’ by Salvator Rosa
A visitor stands in front of one of the empty frames

After their restoration, the empty frames were put back on display, to serve as a placeholder for the paintings stolen and represent the scar they left behind, as well as a symbol of hope for their return.

In the case of one painting, this hope was realised and the landscape, A Rocky Coast, with Soldiers Studying a Plan by Italian Baroque artist Salvator Rosa (1615-73), was returned to the Picture Gallery in April 2024.

It was turned in to police in Romania and recovered by Thames Valley Police and Jacqueline Thalmann, Curator of the Picture Gallery. 


Now back in the gallery, Rosa’s painting can be enjoyed and studied again. It shows a dramatic scene of an untamed wilderness of overgrown cliffs and ruins, in which a group of soldiers gather. One of the soldiers gestures urgently towards the caves and looming rocks. Are they planning an attack? Or trying to escape a trap? Or just calculating their journey through this daunting terrain? It is left for the viewer to decide.

However, two empty frames remain, those that once held Sir Anthony van Dyck’s A Soldier on Horseback c.1617 and Annibale Carracci’s A Boy Drinking, c.1580. Both paintings had been on public display in Christ Church since 1768.

Sir Anthony van Dyck’s 'A Soldier on Horseback' and Annibale Carracci’s 'A Boy Drinking'

They are two extraordinary works painted by artists at the beginning of their careers, fully exposing their artistic prowess, passion and creativity. 

We remain hopeful for their return so that they once again can inspire visitors and be enjoyed and studied.


Anyone with information on the missing paintings or the burglary can contact Thames Valley Police on 101 quoting reference 43200087031 or email the Picture Gallery at picturegallery@chch.ox.ac.uk 

The empty frames signify the keen loss felt by so many by the absence of these works. 

Jacqueline Thalmann, Curator of the Picture Gallery