The mystery of the Vasari archive sale | The Art Newspaper

Luciano Scala, a representative of the Italian ministry of cultural heritage, and the Festari heirs shake hands after an auction to sell the Vasari archive was called off in March

One of the art world’s most gripping and convoluted sagas, involving the Italian government, a mysterious Russian businessman and a Renaissance master, has taken on a new, unexpected turn. The sale of the Arezzo-based archive of Giorgio Vasari (1511-74)—which includes correspondence from five Renaissance popes and the Medici rulers of Florence, as well as 17 letters from Michelangelo—to a Russian buyer appears to be falling apart. The move is the latest twist in a long-running saga that began in September 2009 with the reported sale of the Vasari documents by the then owner of the archive, the late Giovanni Festari, to Vasilij Stepanov, of the Russian firm Ross Engineering, part of the Ross Group, for €150m.
Sale cancelled?
Calling from Moscow, Stepanov has told us that despite the fact that the archive had recently been cleared for sale by an Italian court, the deal was now off. He said he had received information that suggested “that, all along, the Italians had no intention of selling the archive, but planned to coerce the Italian government into paying the contracted price”. He added that he was acting in good faith throughout: “I was offered the archive. The people who brought the deal to me assured me of its viability, as well as the commercial sense of the transaction. So, I considered the archive as an interesting investment opportunity. Again, as soon as I learned about their true intentions, I decided to sever my contacts with them. I consider the deal closed.”
This version of events is disputed by Antonio Capuano, a spokesman for the Festari family who emailed us a statement. He said he “had no evidence that Stepanov had any doubts about the validity and legality of the transaction. The sale procedures were all strictly followed, in accordance with Italian law.” He added: “There has never been any intention to coerce the Italian state. In fact, in September 2010, the Festaris asked the state to give up its right to pre-empt the sale [that is, to buy at the price established by the market] in order to proceed with the contract with the Ross Group.”

The mystery of the Vasari archive sale | The Art Newspaper.

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