Except it was a fake.
Although the plan kept the original painting safe, it so far hasn't helped police catch the thieves, who remain at large.
It all happened in the town of Castelnuovo Magra in Liguria, where the painting of the crucifixion is kept in a side alcove of the Santa Maria Maddalena church.
Their target? "The Crucifixion" by Pieter Brueghel the Younger - a 17th-century depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
The Crucifixion is worth an estimated $3.3 million.
Robbers deployed a hammer to break into its display case and escaped in a vehicle.
"We were hearing rumours that someone wanted to steal it, so the Carabinieri (Italy's paramilitary police force) brought in the fake and installed security cameras".
Now, the Italian police are hunting down the thieves.
Police are now looking for two men who were seen removing the fake painting and driving off with it in a Peugeot vehicle, according to La Repubblica.
"Rumors were circulating that someone could steal the work, and so the police made a decision to put it in a safe place, replacing it with a copy and installing some cameras", Mayor Daniele Montebello said Wednesday night.
He also thanked members of the church who had "noticed that the one on display was not the original, but did not reveal the secret". Police installed surveillance cameras to monitor the church.
The popular painting was donated to the church by a wealthy family and was hidden during World War II to prevent it from being stolen by German soldiers. The scene is painted in oil on oak panels and is a copy of Brueghel's famous father's work, though, no version of the original has survived.
In a deception to rival the convoluted plots of thrillers such as The Thomas Crown Affair, a gang of Italian thieves were fooled into stealing a worthless painting.