The latest episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds may have fans buzzing about the implications to real-world (and Star Trek) history, but it also included a nod to art history, specifically a famous art heist—and offered up a solution to a decades-old mystery.
One of the early scenes in “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” featured Lt. La’an Noonien-Singh doing a security check on what new engineer Pelia was bringing on board the Enterprise. She had quite a collection of antiques, including a unique painting which the ancient Lanthanite claimed was a “fake,” even though the Louvre kept calling to have it returned. After traveling back in time, La’an spotted the same stolen painting in Pelia’s Vermont “Archeology Department” shop in the 21st century.
The specific painting is a famous one, an oil on canvas by Dutch master Johannes Vermeer titled The Concert. It is considered a masterpiece of the Dutch Golden Age and a particularly exquisite example of Vermeer’s celebrated attention to detail. Vermeer’s unique style was the subject of the 2013 documentary Tim’s Vermeer. The creation of the painting was featured in the 2003 dramatic film Girl with a Pearl Earring (based on the novel of the same name) about Vermeer.
As indicated in the Star Trek episode, Vermeer’s The Concert was indeed stolen; in fact, it’s considered to be the most valuable stolen object in the world, valued at $250 million in 2015. Despite mentions of the famed Louvre Museum in Paris, this specific painting was one of thirteen objects of art stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990, and was the highest-valued item stolen.
The Gardner Museum Theft remains an open case with the local police and the FBI, with a $10 million reward for information that leads to the recovery of the art. In 2021, it was the subject of the Netflix docuseries This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist.
So, it’s case closed. Vermeer’s painting is in a little shop in Vermont, and eventually, it will end up on the USS Enterprise in the 23rd century. It’s unclear if the producers of Star Trek are implying that Pelia was involved in the heist or if she acquired the painting in the following decades. It’s possible that the painting was recovered and then displayed at the Louvre before coming into her possession.
Star Trek didn’t have the first pop culture appearance of this painting. Besides the novel and feature film mentioned above, The Concert and the Gardner Heist have been featured on a number of TV shows and books, including The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Blindspot, The Blacklist, Monk, The Venture Bros., Shameless, and The Simpsons.
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