The late former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has a complicated legacy. Even after his death this past June, he continues complicating things, mainly through his large estate. Berlusconi was worth approximately €6 billion at his death, made primarily in media and broadcasting. As the third-wealthiest person in Italy, he lived an extravagant lifestyle, accompanied by a seemingly extravagant art collection. However, in examining his collection, art critics and specialists now tell us Berlusconi’s collection is worth far less than expected.
Some of the details surrounding the Berlusconi collection make it seem very impressive. The former prime minister owned about 25,000 pieces of art, which he kept mainly in a 34,000-square-foot warehouse near his mansion outside of Milan. The warehouse costs €800,000 to maintain every year. But Berlusconi’s heirs might have been disappointed to learn that all those thousands of pieces are worth around €20 million. Of course, that’s not exactly chump change, but when you remember that this collection is absolutely massive, it doesn’t seem like that much. The average value of each work is around €800. Many people get the impression that well-known people who collect art are different kinds of connoisseurs, like Paul Allen or Harry and Linda Macklowe. However, Berlusconi was a very different kind of collector. According to those who knew him, he was an impetuous impulse-buyer. Much of his collection consists of cityscapes, mainly of Milan or Paris, as well as religious paintings and female nudes. He was particularly fond of female nudes since he often brought them out to show people the same way a boy might show his friends a page torn out of a Playboy. He allegedly gifted some of these works to Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán. Berlusconi sought to become a prominent collector but valued quantity over quality. Most of his collection is not in good condition. Many works are extensively damaged by woodworms. Berlusconi’s children are now weighing their options since the extermination cost would be more than the collection’s value.
That is not to say that Berlusconi owned nothing but complete garbage. Out of all 25,000 works, art critic Vittorio Sgarbi commented that only around six or seven paintings have any artistic or monetary value. Berlusconi clearly knew this since he kept these paintings, including a Titian and a Rembrandt, in his main residence rather than the warehouse. Berlusconi acquired these works when he was younger and bought them from galleries and collectors. However, most of his nearly worthless collection came from late-night TV auctions that Berlusconi frequently watched starting around 2018. Because of its low value and the woodworm problem, there were even reports that Berlusconi’s five children preferred to burn most of the collection since they didn’t see the point in keeping or selling it. However, a family spokesperson has said that the children and Berlusconi’s partner Marta Fascina are in the process of selecting what works they wish to keep. The fate of the other pieces is yet to be determined.