The Louvre museum in Paris said Wednesday that it had recovered a set of gold and silver-encrusted Renaissance-era armour nearly 40 years after it was stolen.
A military antiques expert alerted police after being called in to give advice regarding an inheritance in Bordeaux in January and becoming suspicious about the luxurious helmet and body armour in the family's collection.
Police later identified the items from a database of stolen artworks as having been taken from the Louvre on May 31, 1983, in circumstances that remain a mystery.
Bordeaux prosecutors are now investigating how they ended up in the family's estate.
The armour and helmet are thought to have been made in Milan between 1560 and 1580. They were donated to the Louvre in 1922 by the Rothschild family.
"I was certain we would see them reappear one day because they are such singular objects. But I could never have imagined that it would work out so well -- that they would be in France and still together," said Philippe Malgouyres, the Louvre's head of heritage artworks.
"They are prestige weapons, made with virtuosity, sort of the equivalent of a luxury car today. In the 16th century, weapons became works of very luxurious art. Armour became an ornament that had nothing to do with its use," he said.
There are 100,000 objects on France's database of global stolen artworks, with 900 added last year alone.
According to Jean-Luc Martinez, president-director of the Louvre, the last theft from the world's most-visited museum was in 1998, a portrait by 19th-century French artist Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot.
"We're still looking for it," Martinez said.