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Tijl van Limburg

Tijl van Limburg

In the night of 23 september 1971, 21-year-old mario roymans cuts johannes vermeer’s masterpiece ‘the love letter’ from its frame in the brussels palais des beaux-arts with a potato knife. Under the alias tijl van limburg, roymans demands a ransom of two hundred million belgian francs for the painting, which was on loan from holland. He intends to use the ransom to help the suffering population of bangladesh. 

Tijl contacts the media. He is interviewed live on the radio news and in jos gheysen’s popular radio 2 programme ‘te bed of niet te bed’. Slowly but surely, the anonymous thief wins the hearts of the belgian people (and the international media) thanks to his seemingly selfless commitment to the cause. But the whole transaction is taking too long and he gets edgy. In a reckless attempt to prove that he does, in fact, have ‘the love letter’ in his possession, tijl van limburg invites a journalist from walloon paper le soir to view the painting in the dead of night. A bad idea that leads to his capture. 

For years, singer stijn meuris has been fascinated by the story of tijl van limburg and he turned it into a gripping documentary. Not that he followed the developments in the case from up close - meuris was only six in 1971 - but every time he passes the railway bridge in hasselt, the faded tag ‘long live tijl!’ catches his eye. Through archive footage and new interviews, the documentary gives the viewer an insight into the timeline and the motive and the character of the painting thief.

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