At Large  January 15, 2024  Rebecca Schiffman

Italian Culture Minister Investigated Over Stolen Manetti Painting

Wikimedia Commons

Headquarters of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities in Rome at the Collegio Romano Palace

Vittorio Sgarbi, an Italian junior culture minister and art critic, faces scrutiny following the confiscation by Italian authorities this past Friday of 17th-century painting, The Capture of Saint Peter by Rutilio di Lorenzo Manetti, which was stolen in 2013. 

The move comes after an exposé alleged that Sgarbi was involved in laundering fake artworks. While Sgarbi asserts that the painting is authentic, critics demand further investigation. Some have called for Sgarbi to resign from his post as Undersecretary of Culture.

The painting in question was reportedly stolen from the Burasco castle in Piedmont where the painting was cut out from its frame. The work reappeared in 2022 when Sgarbi lent it to an exhibition in Lucca. Back in December, RAI, the national public broadcasting company of Italy, launched an investigative broadcast series reporting that a friend of Sgarbi’s visited the castle weeks before the work was stolen. Sgarbi remains firm in his claim that “the stolen painting and the one [he] owns are two different works.” 

Wikimedia Commons

Vittorio Sgarbi, December 2022


This claim that these are two separate works rides on the fact that the Sgarbi version of the work has a candle in the upper left corner, while the original Manetti work does not. Critics have speculated that Sgarbi inserted the candle himself. Sgarbi said that he did not even buy the work, rather, he purchased a country villa in Viterbo over twenty years ago and the Manetti work was found inside. In Sgarbi’s point of view, the work he owns is the original, and the one stolen from the Burasco castle is the fake.

His art restorer, Gianfranco Mingardi, has other ideas. According to Il Fatto Qutidiano, Mingardi created over 100 paintings for Sgarbi and in 2013 the undersecretary called him and asked to fix a painting. Mingardi said that the work was delivered to him on the side of a highway “without a frame, rolled up like a carpet.” If one is to believe Sgarbi that he found the work two decades ago, why would he all of a sudden bring it to his restorer to fix, only weeks after the Burasco painting was stolen? And why would they deliver the work in such a cryptic manner?

The Manetti work is not the only work related to which Sgarbi is facing accusations. Another work, this one attributed to the French artist Valentin de Boulogne was seized by police in Monte Carlo. According to the BBC, Sgarbi is being investigated for illegally exporting the painting whose value is estimated at $5.5 million. 

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