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Italian Culture Minister Vittorio Sgarbi resigns amid stolen painting allegations

Italian junior culture minister Vittorio Sgarbi has resigned amidst accusations of laundering stolen goods, which he vehemently denies. The allegations center around the theft and alteration of a 17th-Century painting titled “The Capture of Saint Peter” by Rutilio Manetti, a follower of the Baroque master Caravaggio.

Sgarbi is specifically accused of modifying the stolen painting by adding a candle to the top corner, purportedly to obscure its provenance. He claims to have discovered the original artwork while restoring a villa owned by his mother more than two decades ago. According to Sgarbi, the stolen painting in 2013 was a mere copy, and the one he possesses is the authentic piece.

The controversy came to light through an investigation by the Italian TV broadcaster Rai, particularly the program Report. The stolen painting was reported missing from a castle in the northern Italian region of Piedmont, with the canvas cut out of its frame in 2013. Suspicion arose when a friend of Sgarbi, who had visited the property, expressed interest in purchasing the artwork. Additionally, the program reported that another acquaintance of the politician transferred a damaged version of “The Capture of Saint Peter” to a restorer, bearing a hole identical to the missing piece cut out in 2013. When Sgarbi exhibited the restored painting in 2021, it featured the added candle in the top corner.

In addition to the accusations related to “The Capture of Saint Peter,” Sgarbi faces legal scrutiny over another artwork—a painting attributed to the French artist Valentin de Boulogne, valued at €5m (£4.3m). This piece was seized by police in Montecarlo, and Sgarbi is being investigated for its alleged illegal export. He maintains that the seized painting is a copy and does not belong to him. Sgarbi’s resignation is framed as an effort to avoid a conflict of interest amid the ongoing investigations surrounding these art-related controversies.

Picture Courtesy: Google/images are subject to copyright

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