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January 12, 2024

Three houses of Vittorio Sgarbi searched and the painting attributed to Rutilio Manetti seized.

Image Credit Vittorio Sgarbi
via Facebook

This week, the Public Prosecutor's Office at the Court of Macerata initiated an investigation to determine whether Vittorio Sgarbi, Undersecretary of Culture, should face formal charges for the offense of Self-Laundering of Cultural Assets (as specified in Article 1(1)(b) of Law No. 22 of the Criminal Code, C.C. art. 518-septies). As an outcome of this inquiry, today, Italy's Carabinieri del Nucleo Tutela Patrimonio Culturale carried out searches at three residences linked to the art critic in Rome and Le Marche.  Simultaneously to these searches, Sgarbi was informed of his status as a suspect, while according to the Carabinieri's press release officers executing the search warrants seized "telematic, IT, and documentary devices" relevant to their law enforcement investigation requiring further examination.

As part of the prosecutor's inquiry, and in order to conduct the necessary scientific examinations for authentication and attribution of an artwork owned by Sgarbi, officers conducted an evidentiary seizure of the art critic's painting titled The Capture of Saint Peter (Italian: Cattura di San Pietro).  This artwork, attributed by Sgarbi as a previously "unpublished" painting by the artist Rutilio di Lorenzo Manetti (c. 1571 – 22 July 1639), was confiscated from facilities associated with the Cavallini-Sgarbi Foundation in Ro Ferrarese in Emilia-Romagna, Italy.  The order for seizure also called for the seizure of one of the cloned copies of the painting produced by GraphicLAB s.n.c. di De Pietri Cristian & Co.

Since mid December, in addition to hurling insults at investigative journalists, Sgarbi has angrily and adamantly asserted, on video and in print, that he is the victim of politically-minded journalists and that his painting is not the painting from the Castello di Buriasco (Pinerolo) reported stolen by its owner Margherita Buzio on 14 February 2013.  Instead, he defends his ownership by claiming that the painting in his possession was discovered in the abandoned Villa Maidalchina in the Viterbo area and is a much earlier original, and that the stolen painting was merely a poor copy, completed at a later date. 

As discussed in our earlier blog post, to the naked eye, viewing only digital imagery of the two artworks, both paintings appearto be remarkably similar, with the painted characters depicted matching proportionately and in placement, something ARCA does not believe would have been possible for the original 17th century artist himself, let alone a later copiest recreating the image of his predecessor.

The primary difference, aside from the cut down size of Sgarbi's painting, which might be attributed to the fact that the stolen painting was cut from its frame, is the placement of an illuminated torch, which some allege was added to the top left quadrant of Sgarbi's painting at some later date.  Meanwhile, while ignoring these improbable similarities, or the fact that a painting cut from its frame, would be, by its resulting damage, now smaller, Sgarbi took to the airwaves as soon as the searches and seizure of his painting was announced, stating:

"I spontaneously handed over the work so that all the necessary checks could be carried out, starting from the measurements of the painting compared to the frame of the stolen one. I am absolutely at peace. The seizure is a necessary act. 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."

ARCA would like to remind its readers that when questioned by reporters last December about the The Capture of Saint Peter and its added torch, Sgarbi deflected the reporters line of questioning stating that he had sold the artwork in question.  The Cavallini Sgarbi Foundation, where the artwork was recovered was founded in 2008 by Caterina “Rina” Sgarbi and Giuseppe “Nino” Sgarbi and their children, Elisabetta and Vittorio Sgarbi.  This foundation is located in Ro Ferrarese, in the family's home, which is now owned by the Elisabetta Sgarbi Foundation and houses hundreds of works of art – paintings and sculptures from the 13th to the 20th century – that have been acquired over many decades. 

It will be interesting to see what paperwork investigators uncover and whether or not said paperwork substantiates an actual sales transaction to the Cavallini-Sgarbi Foundation, and if this transfer of ownership is of evidentiary interest in the investigation of Self-Laundering of Cultural Assets.

For now, it is up to the investigators to determine if this artwork is one and the same as the stolen painting from Castello di Buriasco, and if it is, whether or not the torch modification was introduced by the art critic himself, or in collaboration with persons currently unknown, as a means of subterfuge, designed to hide the artwork's theft by adding a detail to make the painting appear different from the original.