Art critic and junior culture minister Vittorio Sgarbi has resigned. He was under investigation for laundering stolen goods.
Vittorio Sgarbi, a renowned art critic and one of Italy’s junior culture ministers, has resigned.
Sgarbi, 71, had been placed under investigation for laundering stolen goods – after a 17th century painting that was reported stolen was found in his possession.
The painting, Caravaggio-influenced Renaissance work “The Capture of Saint Peter” by Rutilio Manetti, was reported stolen in 2013 by the owner of a castle in Italy’s northern Piedmont region, where it had been on display. It resurfaced in a 2021 exhibition organised by Sgarbi. The painting was identical to the one reported stolen, except there was a candle added in the top-left corner of the canvas.
The criminal probe into alleged laundering of cultural assets has led the junior minister in Georgia Meloni’s Forza Italia party to issue the following statement at a conference organized in Milan: “I am resigning with immediate effect as undersecretary of the government and will inform (Premier Giorgia) Meloni in the next few hours.”
The former undersecretary has maintained his innocence, and has said that his resignation is motivated by avoiding a conflict of interest.
“I’ve been pondering whether to do it or not to do it for two hours,” he added.
“I’ve done occasionally, occasions can also be daily, conferences like this. This conference, according to what the Antitrust Authority has sent me, would be incompatible, illicit, outlawed. Therefore, in order to prevent all of you from being accomplices to a crime, I speak from this moment free from my mandate as Undersecretary. However, you have a minister and other undersecretaries and I am leaving and from now on I will be able to go on TV and give conferences,” Sgarbi continued.
Filippo Menci, Editor at Euronews Italy, states: “It seems he was under quite a lot of pressure to resign, and this is why the vote was postponed twice. The government did not want to openly vote to dismiss him, but at the same time they were not ready to protect him since his conduct was stigmatized by the public opinion.”
Sgarbi, also a provocative TV presenter, is no stranger to controversy. He went viral last year after getting into a fist fight with writer Giampiero Mughini on live television. The year before, he was dragged out of parliament for shouting insults at other MPs and refusing to leave of his own accord.
On top of the Manetti painting, Sgarbi is also accused of illegally exporting another work by French artist Valentin de Boulogne, which is worth €5 million. Police in Monaco seized the painting, which Sgarbi says is a copy and does not belong to him. He is also under investigation by the Italian Competition Authority for allegedly charging for consulting services while holding public office, accusations which stem from reports by Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano.