Vittorio Sgarbi, the controversial Italian art critic and polemicist who is being investigated for art crimes, has resigned as a junior culture minister with immediate effect, prompting a flurry of celebratory messages from his political foes.
“I am resigning with immediate effect as undersecretary, and I’ll send a letter to [prime minister Giorgia] Meloni,” the 71-year-old said in a speech on Friday on the sidelines of a Milan conference about Italy’s economic future, drawing audible gasps and groans from audience members.
“Better late than never,” wrote Tomaso Montanari, a prominent left-wing art historian, on X, formerly Twitter.
Pressure had been mounting on Sgarbi to step down after prosecutors in Macerata began investigating him in January for allegedly acquiring La Cattura di San Pietro (The Capture of St Peter)—a 1637-39 painting attributed to Rutilio Manetti that was stolen from Castello di Buriasco in Piedmont in 2013—through elicit means, before adding a torch to the canvas to hide its origin. An alliance of opposition politicians, including from the Five Star Movement, subsequently filed a motion of no confidence that was due to be voted on in parliament on 15 February.
In a separate case, the Italian Competition Authority launched a probe in October following a complaint by Gennaro Sangiuliano, the culture minister, to establish whether payments Sgarbi had earned from public appearances were incompatible with his work as a ministry official. Prior to the complaint, Sgarbi had publicly attacked a number of Sangiuliano’s policies.
Sgarbi said on Friday that he had decided to resign after receiving a “long and confused letter” from the Competition Authority claiming that his cultural engagements were “incompatible, illegal, outlawed”. Leaving his ministerial role, he suggested, would allow him to honour his cultural commitments. “From now on I am just Sgarbi, not the junior culture minister,” he said. “From this moment, I can speak freely.”
Elisa Scutella, a parliamentarian for the opposition Five Star Movement, wrote on Facebook: “The Five Star Movement demanded Sgarbi’s resignation, and we finally achieved the goal! […] Those in government positions cannot deface the image and prestige of our country.”
As junior minister, Sgarbi had campaigned to make museums free to Italians and slash value-added tax on art imports to make the country more competitive in the global art market. It is not immediately clear who will replace him.