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Italian Official Accused of Laundering Stolen Painting Resigns

Italian Junior Culture Minister Vittorio Sgarbi resigned on Friday amid an official investigation into his alleged laundering of a stolen 17th-century painting. Rutilio di Lorenzo Manetti’s “The Capture of Saint Peter” was reported missing in 2013 after a heist at a historic castle near Turin, but in a creative twist that has captured the public imagination, Sgarbi insists that the stolen painting was a fake and that his is the real deal.

The minister, an outspoken conservative pundit who serves as president of the board of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Trento and Rovereto, did not mention the artwork when he announced his resignation, instead citing another investigation into accusations that he violated antitrust laws. Sgarbi allegedly accepted large speaker fees while serving in public office and faced an upcoming vote of no confidence. 

Sgarbi has not responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

“The Capture of Saint Peter” was cut from its frame over a decade ago and allegedly replaced with a photo replica. Italian news outlet Report, which broke the story of Sgarbi’s suspected involvement in the crime, stated that an associate of the minister had visited the castle a few weeks earlier and expressed interest in buying the painting. Late last month, Sgarbi was caught on video telling Report journalist Manuele Bonaccorsi, “If you die in a car accident, I’ll be happy. I hope you have an accident.”

Unlike the stolen “The Capture of Saint Peter,” Sgarbi’s “version” of the artwork contains an image of a candle in the top right. The minister exhibited the painting to the public in 2021 and has maintained that the candle’s presence differentiates his work from what he characterized as the “poorly made copy” stolen in the castle heist. Sgarbie maintains that he found “The Capture of Saint Peter” while sifting through his mother’s home near Rome, despite the fact that a restorer has come forward with a claim that Sgarbi asked him to fix a segment of the painting that had been cut around the edges — as though carved out of a frame.

Sgarbi discredited the antitrust allegations against him in a statement published today on Facebook and affirmed that he would resign regardless of the outcome of the antitrust investigation, a marked reversal from the minister’s previous refusals to step down. Politicians on Italy’s center and left have pushed for the minister to vacate his seat.

Sgarbi also faces a third probe: The minister is being investigated for illegally exporting a 17th-century Valentin de Boulogne painting that was seized by police in Monte Carlo. This time, he says his version was a copy. Sgarbi also faced calls to resign last year after he went on a sexist rant and made a statement boasting about the number of women he had slept with.

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