Italian Deputy Minister of Culture resigns after the painting theft scandal

On Friday, Vittorio Sgarbi announced his resignation from the position of Deputy Minister of Culture. The scandal has been haunting the art historian for weeks. Investigations conducted by Italian journalists showed that he, the second-highest official responsible for protecting Italian cultural heritage, was in possession of a stolen painting.

Not by mistake, but according to what the journalists said with clear intent. When Al-Saghirbi displayed it at an exhibition in 2021, the painting stolen in 2013 contained an added element; A candle suddenly appears against the originally dark background, to make the work less noticeable like a stolen canvas. In 2021, authorities also launched an investigation into Sgarbi, who allegedly illegally exported another painting worth €5 million.

This was followed by a second police investigation in January, with authorities searching Asgarbi’s three homes. The Deputy Minister of Culture said at the time that he had nothing to worry about: “I have nothing to fear.” A few weeks later the world looks different, perhaps because the February 15 deadline is approaching.

Verbal attack

By that day, the Italian Competition Authority will decide whether Sgarbi’s side activities are compatible with his role as deputy minister. With his resignation, the controversial art historian has already begun to take advanced steps in this regard. For the second time, Al-Saghirbi sees the role of Deputy Minister of Culture slip through his fingers prematurely: from 2001 to 2002, he held the same position in the second government of Silvio Berlusconi, who then belonged to his party.

At that time, he was forced to resign due to ongoing disagreements with the Minister of Culture, who was a step above him in the hierarchy. In the years that followed, during which he held several mayoral positions, Sgarbi became known in Italy mainly for his endless appetite for polemics. In his final resignation, he returned to the role in style. Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano (Fratelli d’Italia) in particular must suffer. “I haven’t spoken to Sangiuliano since October 23,” says Asgarbi, who describes his former colleague as “a man without dignity.”

The government has remained very quiet about Sgarbi in recent weeks: neither Minister Sangiuliano nor Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni have responded publicly to the painting scandal. His resignation is undoubtedly a relief to them, although it could also set a precedent. Sagharabi is not the only minister who has faced problems with the law in the past fifteen months since the right-wing government took power.

For example, Tourism Minister Daniela Santanchi (Fratelli d’Italia), who was investigated for financial fraud, has stubbornly remained in her place so far. Deputy Minister of Justice Andrea Delmastro (Fratelli d’Italia) is also under investigation on suspicion of revealing an official secret. It will become clear in the near future whether Saghirbi’s resignation will have consequences on the sustainability of their positions.

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Denton Watson

"Friend of animals everywhere. Evil twitter fan. Pop culture evangelist. Introvert."

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