Italian junior culture minister Embroiled in Stolen Art Allegations
In a developing story that has gripped Italy’s political and cultural circles, Vittorio Sgarbi, a junior culture minister and well-known art critic, faces accusations related to a 17th Century painting, “The Capture of Saint Peter” by Rutilio Manetti, a disciple of Baroque icon Caravaggio. Sgarbi, also recognized for his TV appearances and past slander convictions, vehemently denies the allegations.
Authorities have launched an investigation into Sgarbi for potentially laundering stolen artwork. The painting in question, originally showcased in a Piedmont region castle, was reported missing in 2013. Intriguingly, Sgarbi included this very piece in a 2021 exhibition, leading to current suspicions.
Complicating matters, Sgarbi is accused of modifying the painting, notably by adding a candle to its top corner, allegedly to mask its true origins. He maintains that the painting discovered in a villa purchased by his mother over two decades ago is authentic, asserting that the stolen piece was merely a replica.
The Rai TV program ‘Report’ shed light on these claims, revealing that a friend of Sgarbi had previously shown interest in acquiring the artwork before its disappearance. Additionally, ‘Report’ discovered that another associate transferred a damaged version of “The Capture of Saint Peter” for restoration, which oddly matched the shape of the canvas removed from the Piedmont castle.
Further intensifying the situation, Sgarbi now confronts additional scrutiny over a different artwork, a painting believed to be by French artist Valentin de Boulogne and valued at €5m. Police seized this piece in Montecarlo, and Sgarbi faces investigation for illegal export, although he insists it’s a copy and not his property.
Amidst these unfolding events, opposition parties, including the Five Star Movement, demand Sgarbi’s removal, planning to propose a motion in parliament.
These allegations add to a series of recent controversies affecting the Italian government, such as an incident involving MP Emanuele Pozzolo and a firearm at a New Year’s Eve party, leading to his suspension by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
As Italy approaches European elections in June, these developments may further stir the already tense political landscape, with Meloni’s coalition under scrutiny. This situation presents yet another challenge for the Prime Minister, as Italian politics braces for potentially more tumultuous times.