Italian Culture Official Resigns Amid Antitrust Agency’s Probe

Vittorio Sgarbi, Italy’s controversial junior culture minister, resigned as he continued to face mounting scrutiny over an array of matters, including a possible connection to a stolen painting and an ongoing investigation by the country’s antitrust body.

It was the latter inquiry that Sgarbi cited when he announced his resignation at a conference held late in the day in Milan on Friday. That investigation centered around the money that Sgarbi allegedly pocketed when he made public appearances at culture events.

Last year, the Italian daily newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano reported that Sgarbi had made about €300,000 over the course of nearly nine months from conducting such appearances, spurring the antitrust body to investigate. Sgarbi previously defended himself, claiming that he had merely taken “a fee for what I’ve done all my life, what any writer or lecturer does: I talk about art.” But the antitrust body said that in fact, these fees were “activities incompatible with a government office.”

On Friday, as he resigned form his post, Sgarbi said, “According to the Antitrust notice, I could not talk about art to avoid conflict of interest. And therefore I would like to announce here my resignation as Undersecretary of State for Culture.”

Meanwhile, last month, Sgarbi had faced an investigation over his alleged connections to a Rutilio Manetti painting that was stolen in 2013. Il Fatto Quotidiano claimed that a similar-looking Manetti painting that went on view in 2021 in the Tuscan city of Lucca was the heisted one. The one in the Lucca show had reportedly come from the Villa Maidalchina, which Sgarbi owns.

Sgarbi subsequently claimed that Il Fatto Quotidiano had lied in its reporting and said he was not aware of an investigation. He did not address the debacle over the Manetti painting during his resignation on Friday.

Nor did Sgarbi address an array of other controversies that have followed him over the years, most notably one in 2023 over sexist remarks made at public events. At MAXXI in Rome, Sgarbi said it was “tragic” that Silvio Berlusconi, the former Prime Minister of Italy, had slept with “fewer than 100 women in his life,” spurring nearly all of the museum’s employees to denounce Sgarbi.

Before becoming culture undersecretary, Sgarbi had already accrued a reputation for being contentious and provocative. He stated that he did not like Italian avant-garde movements such as Arte Povera, and grabbed international headlines when he tried and ultimately failed to mount an exhibition about excrement.

His resignation came as he was due to face a vote of no confidence that was scheduled for February 15 as of Friday.

Initially, the vote of no confidence was expected to take place earlier, but it was postponed, leading some politicians to claim that Sgarbi’s supporters were hoping that the results of the antitrust investigation would exonerate him. “We will wait to see how Antitrust responds and then evaluate the case,” Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s Prime Minister, said in October.

At the announcement of his resignation, Sgarbi said that he would vacate his post effective immediately and that he would make his departure official in the coming hours via communication with Meloni.

Yet he refused to provide his detractors with an apology. “I don’t have to apologize to anyone,” Sgarbi said. “I expressed my imprecations like anyone does.”

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