Italian Culture Minister Vittorio Sgarbi resigns over accusations of painting theft

An Italian undersecretary of culture has resigned amid accusations of laundering stolen goods, which he denies.

Vittorio Sgarbi made the announcement before starting a conference in Milan, saying he was resigning “to avoid a conflict of interest.”

Prosecutors are investigating allegations that Sgarbi, a renowned art critic, stole and altered a 17th-century painting.

“The Capture of San Pedro” was reported stolen in 2013.

The painting by Rutilio Manetti, a follower of the Baroque master Caravaggio, used to be displayed in a castle in the Piedmont region of northern Italy.

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Mr. Sgarbi is accused of altering the painting by adding a candle to the top corner, supposedly to conceal its provenance.

The politician says he found the job while he was restoring a villa bought by his mother more than 20 years ago. He says the painting is original, while the one stolen in 2013 was a copy.

The accusations emerged in an investigation by the Italian television network Rai’s Report program.

The owner of the castle who reported the painting stolen told reporters that the canvas was cut from the frame in 2013.

He also said that a friend of Mr Sgarbi had previously visited the property and had expressed interest in purchasing the work.

The program also claimed to have discovered that another friend of the politician later transferred a damaged painting of “The Arrest of Saint Peter” to a restorer.

It was said to have a hole in the same shape as a piece of canvas cut from the frame of the Piedmont castle in 2013.

When Sgarbi exhibited the restored work in 2021, the candle had been added to the painting in the upper corner.

The deputy minister also faces allegations relating to another work – a painting attributed to the French artist Valentin de Boulogne, valued at €5m (£4.3m), which was seized by Monte Carlo police.

Mr. Sgarbi is being investigated by a prosecutor for illegally exporting the painting.

He says it’s a copy and it didn’t belong to him.