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Giuliano Ruffini and Pasquale Frongia

As Vincent Noce reports in The ART NEWSPAPER of Sept. 13, 2019, the high-profile Old Master forgery scandal took a dramatic turn. On 10 September, the virtually unknown painter, Pasquale "Lino" Frongia, 61, was arrested by Carabinieri in northern Italy. He was jailed in Reggio di Emilia and is awaiting transfer to Paris where he is due to be interviewed by investigating officers and the judge Aude Burési, who, for the past five years, has been leading the criminal investigation.

Born in 1958 in Montecchio, Frongia, nicknamed Lino, is a graduate of the Fine Arts Academy of Bologna. He paints modern works inspired by De Chirico’s “magic realism” exhibited in local galleries. He has also created skilled copies of Old Master paintings. Among these was a monumental “Baroque” Assumption of the Virgin that he painted for the reconstructed church of Noto, near Syracuse, which was damaged by an earthquake. The work was commissioned by the former Italian Under-Secretary for Culture Vittorio Sgarbi who described Frongia as the “greatest living Old Master”.

According to sources, an arrest warrant has also been issued against a Frenchman living close to Reggio, Giuliano Ruffini, who sold dozens of paintings for millions of Euros over the past few decades. Both men are subject to European Union arrest warrants, which do not require extradition procedures. Ruffini, who describes himself as a “collector”, denies any wrongdoing and told The Art Newspaper that the Old Master paintings he was selling were all attributed by curators and experts.

The scandal has embroiled museums such as the Louvre, London’s National Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, as well as prominent dealers such as Mark Weiss, Konrad Bernheimer and Sotheby’s.

In May 2018, police seized a painting of San Francesco lent by Lino Frongia from an exhibition on El Greco in Treviso, Veneto. A request for the return of the painting was denied by a French court after it was transferred to Paris. Frongia strongly denied that the work was a fake and was supported by Sgarbi. He claimed that he could “certify the work is a genuine Greco” and denounced an “absurd investigation led by foolish people in France”. In 2008, Sgarbi praised his friend Frongia for having painted a head of Christ that was sold by Ruffini as a work by Correggio to the Correggio Foundation. Although Frongia admitted that he had painted copies and pastiches, including a Christ in the style of Correggio, he denied being the author of this particular piece, and claimed that he had never sold any of his reproductions.


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