The Russian government has seized a Rubens painting, valued at £55m, that disappeared from Germany during the Second World War.
Germany has been demanding for months that the Russian authorities secure the painting after a consortium of "shady" Russian businessmen tried to sell it to a German art expert earlier this year.
But it was still unclear last night whether the painting would be returned to Germany.
The German culture minister, Christina Weiss, said in a statement: "The securing of the Rubens painting is gratifying and is a signal that war booty has no commercial value."
Ms Weiss said the painting had been secured after co-operation between the Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, and the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. She said the painting had been saved from "a grey zone of the art market".
Tarquinius and Lucretia, was painted by Dutch master Peter Paul Rubens between 1610 and 1611. The huge canvas, depicting the mythological rape of the chaste Roman wife, Lucretia, disappeared from a castle on the outskirts of Berlin in 1945 as the Red Army advanced on the German capital.
A photograph of the picture was emailed this year, anonymously, to a German art expert, Gerd Bartoschek. The painting was badly damaged and had been rolled up.
Mr Bartoschek, the director of the Potsdam gallery where the painting had hung until 1942 alerted police and offered to send a team to Moscow to view the painting.
In June, two German art historians met the Russian gang in Moscow and were driven to a house where they were shown the painting.
Since then the fight has been on to have the painting secured.
There has been much controversy since the war about works taken by the Russians from Germany and other art taken by the Germans from Russia that have never been returned. In 1997, the Russian parliament passed a law banning the return of trophy art.Reuse content