The departed Italian magnate Silvio Berlusconi was known for his many acquisitions, among them a vast art collection. However, this trove of 25,000 pieces has been mercilessly derided by Vittorio Sgarbi, an eminent Italian art critic. According to Sgarbi, the large volume of artwork, which Berlusconi procured in large part from late-night telesales shows, are primarily croste—works of substandard quality with little to no monetary value. Bundling this unwieldy collection continues to be problematic for his surviving family.
The assortment of purchases, stored in a 34,400 square foot warehouse near Berlusconi’s residence outside Milan, comprises diverse pieces. Paintings ranging from depictions of the Madonna, vibrant nude women, and city vistas of Paris, Naples, and Venice were reported by La Repubblica. However, these pieces failed to capture the admiration of Sgarbi. The critic suggested in an interview that only “people who know little about art” may appreciate these works in a museum setting, with only a handful of the 25,000 pieces holding any real artistic worth.
Despite the critic’s disparaging remarks, the total value of the late hands-on collector’s portfolio is reported to be approximately €20m. This calculation would mean an average value per work of € 800. The former prime minister, who was a significant force in Italian politics during the early 1990s, had amassed a net worth of about €6bn at his death.
The high-spending Italian mogul did not restrict his acquisition to lesser-known pieces. In his primary residence, visitors could find creations by Renaissance icon Titian and Dutch grandmaster Rembrandt. Berlusconi’s buying habits were spontaneous according to Cesare Lampronti, a London-based art trader who worked in close proximity with the billionaire for over thirty years. Berlusconi purchased numerous portraits of women, which he often presented as gifts.
An enormous assembly of such a magnitude, however, is not without its burdens. Managing the warehouse that houses the art collection costs roughly €800,000 annually, a significant figure reported by La Repubblica. Additionally, the collection hasn’t been immune to natural deterioration, and has already suffered from woodworm damage. In certain scenarios, the expense of eradicating these pests is greater than the value of the affected artwork. Berlusconi’s descendants find that this ponderous collection is an unwieldy inheritance to manage, proving that not all that glitters is gold.