Vittorio Sgarbi who is accused of the theft of a painting

Junior Culture Minister investigated over theft of painting

Culture News

A junior culture minister faces investigation over theft of a painting. The allegations are that a 17th-century painting in his possession was stolen from a castle over a decade ago. Vittorio Sgarbi, a prominent art critic, is also accused of altering the painting to conceal its true origins.

The Italian government finds itself entangled in a fresh controversy, this time around art theft.

An investigation into Vittorio Sgarbi, junior culture minister, revolves around allegations of laundering stolen art. The accusation was triggered by revelations on the investigative series Report, aired on the public broadcaster Rai. Sgarbi vehemently denies the accusations.

Alteration of the stolen painting

Margherita Buzio, the owner of “La Cattura di San Pietro” (The Capture of Saint Peter), a painting by artist Rutilio Manetti, reported the theft of the artwork from her Piedmont castle in 2013. She said the canvas had been cut from its frame.

Report identified a friend of Sgarbi, alleged to have enquired about purchasing the painting a few weeks before the theft.

The damaged painting was allegedly entrusted to an art restorer for repairs a few months after the theft. According to the allegations, the restorer claims the artwork given to him was the stolen painting.

In 2019, the painting was transferred to another restorer, and during this time, a candle was added to the top left corner to allegedly make it less identifiable. It remains unclear who added the candle, but the painting presented by Sgarbi at an exhibition in Lucca in 2021 was the same artwork.

Sgarbi contends that the displayed painting was the original version of “The Capture of Saint Peter,” which he asserts to have found while restoring an abandoned villa purchased by his mother in Viterbo in 2000. He argues that the stolen painting from the castle was a “bad copy” produced in the 19th century.

Sgarbi calls accusers “ignorant”

Denying claims of altering the painting, Sgarbi dismissed those accusing him as “ignorant.” He insisted that Manetti’s style involved placing candles everywhere, asserting his painting is the authentic original, while the other is a poorly crafted copy.

Sgarbi accused the restorer of making revengeful allegations over money owed to him.

Opposition calls for Sgarbi’s removal

In response to the controversy, opposition parties are calling for Sgarbi’s dismissal. Irene Manzi, a politician with the centre-left Democratic party, leading a parliamentary culture committee, called on Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano to cease protecting Sgarbi.

The Five Star Movement announced its intention to present a parliamentary motion for Sgarbi’s dismissal, stating the need for accountability in light of the ongoing investigations.

Leave a Reply