Italian Culture Minister Vittorio Sgarbi Faces Investigation Amidst Art Controversy

Vittorio Sgarbi

Italian Secretary of State for Culture, Vittorio Sgarbi, finds himself at the center of a growing controversy as prosecutors in Macerata, central Italy, have opened an investigation into allegations surrounding a painting exhibited during his 2021 art show. Vittorio Sgarbi, a prominent art historian and critic appointed by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, is suspected of exhibiting a painting that might have been modified to hide its illicit origins.

The controversy began with a report aired by public television Rai, focusing on a 17th-century painting by Italian artist Rutilio Manetti, displayed in Vittorio Sgarbi exhibition. The artwork closely resembled one reported stolen in 2013, titled “The Capture of St Peter,” with the owner having reported the theft from her castle.

According to the report, a friend of Vittorio Sgarbi, identified by Rai, had visited the castle a few weeks before the theft, expressing interest in purchasing the painting. Later that year, the same individual delivered a torn canvas to a restoration expert, claiming it was the stolen artwork exhibited by Vittorio Sgarbi in 2021. Notably, a candle was added to the top left corner of the exhibited painting, allegedly to make it less identifiable, according to the restorer.

Sgarbi vehemently denies any wrongdoing, asserting that he found the original painting in a villa purchased by his mother in 2000, once owned by a noble family where Pope Innocent X stayed in the 17th century. He contends that the stolen painting was a “bad copy” from the 19th century, while his is an authentic original.

The minister suggests that the restorer’s accusations are motivated by personal issues, including a significant sum of money owed to him, characterizing them as an act of “revenge.” In a separate investigation, Italy’s antitrust body had already opened a case against Sgarbi in October for allegedly accepting lucrative fees for cultural event appearances.

The unfolding controversy has sparked public and political reactions, with opposition parties calling for Vittorio Sgarbi dismissal. The investigation adds another layer of complexity to the ongoing scrutiny of the Secretary of State for Culture, further intensifying the spotlight on Italy’s cultural and political landscape.

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FAQs

1. What is the main controversy surrounding Vittorio Sgarbi and the painting exhibition?

  • The controversy revolves around allegations that Vittorio Sgarbi, the Italian Secretary of State for Culture, exhibited a painting with dubious origins during his 2021 art show. The painting, attributed to artist Rutilio Manetti, closely resembled one reported stolen in 2013, raising suspicions of illicit origins and potential tampering.

2. What specific accusations does Vittorio Sgarbi face in relation to the exhibited painting?

  • Sgarbi is under investigation for suspected involvement in obscuring the fact that the exhibited painting was obtained illegally. The allegations include claims that a friend of Sgarbi, identified in a report by public television Rai, may have been linked to the theft and subsequent modification of the stolen artwork to conceal its origin.

3. How does Vittorio Sgarbi respond to the accusations, and what is the basis of his defense?

  • Sgarbi vehemently denies any wrongdoing, asserting that he discovered the original painting in a villa purchased by his mother in 2000. He insists that the stolen painting is a “bad copy” from the 19th century, while his exhibited artwork is the authentic original. Sgarbi accuses the restoration expert, who claimed the stolen painting was presented in the exhibition, of making false allegations due to personal issues, including a significant amount of money owed to him.

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