At Large  October 22, 2023  Rebecca Schiffman

Berlusconi Heirs Consider Future of His TV-Auction Art Collection

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Silvio Berlusconi in his private jet in the 1980s.

The late Italian prime minister and media tycoon, Silvio Berlusconi, was known for being the longest serving post-war prime minister in Italy and for being the third-wealthiest person in that country at the time of his death. So when his heirs began to look through his belongings, they were shocked to find a collection of almost 25,000 works of art – and even more so when they realized this massive collection was mostly worthless.

The former prime minister, who died in June at the age of 86, reportedly suffered from insomnia, and regularly watched television late at night where he would buy objects from late-night shopping channels. Vittorio Sgarbi, an undersecretary at the culture ministry, and a friend of Berlusconi's, is quoted in Reuters on the subject, saying that Berlusconi did not collect based on any research or specific interests, but wanted to buy a "bunch of artworks" with little care as to what they were. Sgarbi, who himself garnered headlines shortly after Berlusconi’s death for the lewd and sexist remarks he made at a museum event, even described how the prime minister would call the TV auctioneers. He said, “He would start saying ‘I am Berlusconi’ and they would hang up the phone thinking it was a joke.”

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Villa San Martino, Arcore; Berlusconi's personal residence near Milan.

The rapid purchasing from television auctions began in 2018. Lucas Vianini, an art expert, received a call from Berlusconi at the time during a late-night auction. Intrigued by the prime minister engaging in a late-night auction, he struck up a conversation and was later invited to Berlusconi’s villa. From there, he became the prime minister’s chief curator.

Berlusconi spent an estimated 20 million euros on this collection and had stored it in a warehouse near his residences in Arcore, near Milan. The warehouse costs €800,000 (about $846,880) a year to maintain the collection. Now, it is up to Berlusconi’s five children to decide what to do with all of these objects. 

Berlusconi’s collection was varied and included a number of paintings of nude women, paintings of landscapes, mostly of Milan or Paris, portraits of himself, including a three meter marble statue of himself, among other things. According to Sgarbi, only six or seven have artistic worth. In addition to his television auction collection, Berlusconi also had owned higher quality paintings including works by Titian and Rembrandt, but these were housed at his primary residence. 

According to The Guardianthe family was planning to demolish the majority of the collection. At the same time, they are also considering turning his home, Villa San Martino, into a museum, so perhaps some of the items will end up there. 

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