Italian minister under investigation over stolen painting

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Italian minister under investigation over stolen painting
Italy's Junior Culture Minister and art critic Vittorio Sgarbi speaks to the press in the Santa Maria della Salute basilica in Venice in 2010. The newly appointed politician is under investigation over a painting in his possession. (Photo by ANDREA PATTARO / AFP)

Italy's culture undersecretary Vittorio Sgarbi was under investigation for laundering cultural goods over a 17th century painting that police seized from his property on Friday saying it had been stolen.


The painting in Sgarbi's possession is believed to be the same one that disappeared from a castle near Turin in northern Italy in 2013, the artistic heritage protection unit of the Carabinieri police said in a statement.

In addition to the painting, the Carabinieri police also seized documents that could prove useful to the investigation, such as computers, cards and mobile phones.

"I spontaneously handed over the work so that all the necessary checks can be carried out, starting with comparing the measurements of the painting to the frame of the stolen one," the minister and art critic said, adding that he was "absolutely calm", Italian news agency Ansa reported on Saturday.

"The seizure is a necessary action. I have nothing to fear. I will defend myself by all means against those who speculate on the matter and those who become complicit in it," he added.

The controversial art critic said he found the painting, which he has attributed to painter Rutilio Manetti, in a property purchased by the Cavallini-Sgarbi foundation.

However, Sgarbi is suspected of having carried out "operations aimed at hiding [the painting's] criminal provenance" – a candle can now be seen in the top left of the canvas.

The concerns came to light when the large-scale painting – which Sgarbi called 'The Capture of St Peter' – was presented as an unpublished work by Manetti in an exhibition in Lucca, Tuscany in 2021.


The Carabinieri police said the person(s) behind the painting are unknown but that the work recalls that of 17th century Italian painters Francesco Solimena and Bernardo Cavallino.

But the art critic has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, maintaining that the painting in his possession is a Manetti original and that "the torch has always been there" while the one stolen from the castle "is a bad copy", Ansa said.

He told Mediaset programme Quarta Repubblica on Monday: “There is no mystery. There are two paintings.”

The outspoken critic has made headlines numerous times since being appointed to his government post in 2022.

In October, Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano distanced himself from his junior minister after the competition watchdog launched an investigation into Sgarbi’s alleged acceptance of large payments for appearing at cultural events.


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