Italian Culture Minister Vittorio Sgarbi resigns amid stolen painting allegations

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Vittorio SgarbiImage source, Getty Images

An Italian junior culture minister has resigned amid accusations of laundering stolen goods, which he denies.

Vittorio Sgarbi made the announcement before beginning a lecture in Milan, saying he was quitting “to avoid a conflict of interest”.

Prosecutors are investigating allegations Mr Sgarbi, a renowned art critic, stole and modified a 17th-Century painting.

“The Capture of Saint Peter” was reported stolen in 2013.

The painting by Rutilio Manetti – a follower of the Baroque master Caravaggio – used to be displayed in a castle in the northern Italian region of Piedmont.

Mr Sgarbi is accused of altering the painting by adding a candle to the top corner, allegedly to conceal its provenance.

The politician says he found the work while restoring a villa bought by his mother more than 20 years ago. He says the painting is the original, while the one stolen in 2013 was a copy.

The allegations surfaced in an investigation by the programme Report on the Italian TV broadcaster Rai.

The owner of the castle who reported the painting stolen told journalists that the canvas was cut out of the frame in 2013.

She also said that a friend of Mr Sgarbi had earlier visited the property and expressed an interest in buying the work.

The composite image used by Report to illustrate the differences between what it says is the original work, on the left, and the copy, on the right

Image source, Report/RAI

The programme also stated it had found that another friend of the politician later transferred a damaged painting of “The Capture of Saint Peter” to a restorer.

It was said it bore a hole with the same shape as a piece of the canvas cut out of the Piedmont castle frame in 2013.

By the time the restored work was put on display by Mr Sgarbi in 2021, the painting had the addition of the candle in the top corner.

The junior minister is also facing accusations regarding another work: a painting attributed to the French artist Valentin de Boulogne, valued at €5m (£4.3m), which was seized by police in Montecarlo.

Mr Sgarbi is being investigated by a prosecutor for illegally exporting the painting.

He says it is a copy – and that it did not belong to him.

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