Italy councillor quits over ‘penis’ Christmas tree

A celebrity councillor from the town of Urbino in central Italy has resigned after an "immoral" avant-garde Christmas tree was erected in the historic centre without his knowledge.

Italy councillor quits over 'penis' Christmas tree
Outspoken art critic Vittorio Sgarbi posed naked for the cover of L'Espresso magazine in 1993. Photo: AFP

62-year-old old art critic and councillor Vittorio Sgarbi was furious when the avant-garde tree was put up without consulting him and lambasted the conical grey steel and glass structure as “a useless, immoral and ugly thing,” La Stampa reported

Sgarbi – an art critic and former mayor in Sicily who is well known for his disdain of contemporary art – became Urbino's council member for culture in June 2014 with a specific mandate to protect the artistic and cultural integrity of the town's historical centre.

But after the council put up the modern 'tree' in Piazza della Repubblica, Sgarbi accused the city's deputy mayor, Francesca Crespini, of going behind his back to install it.

Sgarbi then threatened to resign if the structure wasn't taken down and proved to be as good as his word by stepping down on Monday.

In his resignation letter, which he published on Facebook, the councillor wrote that he couldn't “share the inconsistent political choices and violations of protocol,” and called the tree “a penis that disfigures the city.”

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Paul Gauguin’s ‘Mata Mua’ returns to Spain

One of French painter Paul Gauguin's most famous paintings, "Mata Mua", will return to a Madrid museum on Monday following an agreement between the Spanish government and its owner, who took it out of the country.

mata mua madrid
Toward the end of his life, Gauguin spent ten years in French Polynesia, where he completed some of his most famous artwork Painting: Paul Gaugin

The artwork had been on display for two decades at Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza museum but in 2020 when the institution closed because of the pandemic, the painting’s owner Carmen Thyssen moved it to Andorra where she currently lives.

Her decision to take “Mata Mua” to the microstate sandwiched between Spain and France raised fears she would remove other works from her collection which are on display at the museum.

“It is expected that the painting will arrive today,” a spokeswoman for the museum told AFP.


In 1989, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza bought Mata Mua at the Sotheby’s auction in New York. Painting: Paul Gauguin

The artwork will go back on display to the public “a few days after” Thyssen signs a new agreement with the Spanish state for the lease of her collection, she added. The deal is expected to be signed on Wednesday.

Painted in 1892 in vivid, flat colours, “Mata Mua” depicts two women, one playing the flute and the other listening, set against a lush Tahitian landscape.

It is one of the stars of Thyssen’s collection of several hundred paintings which are on show at the museum, including works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet.

Her collection had initially been displayed at the Madrid museum as part of a free loan agreement signed in February 2002 that was subsequently extended.

But in August 2021 Spain’s culture ministry announced it had reached an agreement with Thyssen to rent the collection from her for 15 years for €97.5 million ($111.5 million), with “preferential acquisition rights on all or part” of the works. The collection includes a Degas, a Hopper and a Monet.

Aside from housing her collection of works, the museum displays the collection of her late husband, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Swiss heir to a powerful industrial lineage who died in Spain in 2002.

The Spanish state bought his collection in 1993 from $350 million, according to the museum.