A Rome court was due to decide on 6 June whether a confidante of the late Italian film star Gina Lollobrigida tried to auction around 350 of her possessions including paintings, sculptures and jewellery against her will. The case, which has now been postponed to 15 December because of a lawyers’ strike, is part of an ongoing legal dispute between rival heirs to the actress’s estate, which was found in a recent survey to have shrunk by around €9m.
Lollobrigida, who died in January aged 95, shot to international fame in films such as Bread, Love and Dreams (1953) and Trapeze (1956). She became one of Europe’s first sex symbols and, later in life, unsuccessfully stood for European parliament. She was also a renowned art lover who studied sculpture in Florence, showing her works in solo exhibitions. She was awarded the French Legion of Honour for artistic merit and was photographed alongside Giorgio de Chirico and Salvador Dalí.
The actress’s large art collection included everything from baroque paintings to busts of Buddhist deities. Many of her possessions—which are catalogued in an inventory that was compiled during a recent audit of her estate and has been shared with The Art Newspaper—were listed at Rome’s Colasanti auction house in May 2020 with an estimated value of €300,000. They include paintings attributed to Abraham Brueghel (valued at €10,000), a Flemish painter active in Italy (€3,000) and a Neapolitan School artist (€8,000).
A last-minute reprieve
Milko Skofic Jr, Lollobrigida’s son, discovered the imminent auction via Colasanti’s website days before the bidding was due to begin and alerted Italian police, who then blocked the auction, says Lollobrigida’s lawyer, Alessandro Gentiloni Silveri.
Only one piece, a French School work titled Venere e Amore, had been sold before the auction was blocked, Gentiloni Silveri says. It was sold to a French antiques shop for €14,000.
Andrea Piazzolla, Lollobrigida’s 35-year-old former employee and assistant, to whom she left 50% of her estate, is accused of attempting to sell the actress’s possessions against her will.
Speaking with The Art Newspaper, Piazzolla’s lawyer Filippo Morlacchini claims that the actress had initially requested authorisation from her legal guardian to auction the works but later denied knowledge of the auction when questioned by the Rome public prosecutor.
Morlacchini argued that Lollobrigida changed her story because she did not want to reveal to the public prosecutor that she intended to auction the works. “She wanted to leave nothing to her son, that is the truth,” he adds.
The works from the blocked auction, including around 70 sculptures by Lollobrigida herself, are now being safeguarded by the auction house, with other works stored at Lollobrigida’s former residences in Rome and Pietrasanta, says Roberto Buldrini, an art expert who helped to value Lollobrigida’s estate during the recent survey. He added that all works are being stored in “good conditions”.
In a separate case which was scheduled for 7 June and was postponed to 18 September due to the strike, a Rome court will rule on whether Piazzolla manipulated Lollobrigida into leaving half of her estate to him. Vittorio Occorsio, the notary who conducted the recent survey, valued the actress’s remaining estate at around €500,000, debts included, showing that around €9m in cash, including money from the sale of some of her properties, has vanished. The court’s decision could result in all of the actress’s estate being reassigned to Milko Skofic Jr.
The 6 June hearing, which relates specifically to the blocked auction, risked being postponed due to a strike of criminal lawyers, Gentiloni Silveri says. Regarding the ultimate fate of the artworks, the lawyer says: “They will be returned to the heirs, whoever they turn out to be.”