Europe

Chinese art stolen from France's Fontainebleau palace

An overview of the Empress' Chinese Museum, Fontainebleau Castle Image copyright FMR/Chateau de Fontainebleau
Image caption The Chinese Museum houses works once belonging to Empress Eugenie

Thieves have broken into Fontainebleau palace and stolen 15 Chinese artefacts in a lightning raid, the French culture ministry has said.

The robbery, at the Empress' Chinese Museum housed by the palace, was over in seven minutes, the authorities said.

Among the items taken was a replica of a crown of the King of Siam, now Thailand, given to Emperor Napoleon III in 1861.

Officials at Fontainebleau palace called the objects "priceless".

"They were among the most beautiful pieces in the museum," said Jean-Francois Hebert, who runs Fontainebleau, about 50km (30 miles) south-east of Paris.

Image copyright RMN-Grand Palais / Gerard Blot
Image caption This enamel piece, among those stolen, dates from the reign of Emperor Qianlong in the 17th Century
Image copyright RMN-Grand Palais/Gerard Blot
Image caption Officials called the objects "priceless"

"We think they (the thieves) were very determined, knew exactly what they were looking for and worked in a very professional manner," he added.

The palace has been used by French kings since the 12th Century. It is now a national museum and a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The Chinese Museum houses works once belonging to Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III.

The French culture ministry described it as "one of the most secure parts of the palace, equipped with alarms and surveillance cameras".

An investigation is under way.

Image copyright RMN-Grand Palais/Gerard Blot
Image caption A replica of a crown of the King of Siam, given to the French emperor in 1861

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