It has for centuries been a playground for the rich and famous, but Venicecity is so cash-strapped that it is considering selling off some of its mostprized artistic treasures, including masterpieces by Gustav Klimt and Marc Chagall.
One of the most expensive cities in the world to maintain owing to its aquatic location, sinking foundations and vulnerability to high tides, Venice’s spending needs far exceed its budget.
Now in an attempt to plug the hole in its finances, officials in the lagoon city hope to sell a batch of paintings held in its public museums for as much as €400 million (£300m) at auction.
It is estimated that the Klimt painting, titled Judith II (Salome), could raise as much as €70 million alone.
The oil painting, which dates from 1909, is currently owned by Venice’s Ca Pesaro modern art museum.
Luigi Brugnaro, the mayor of Venice, has justified the proposed sales by pointing out that neither Klimt, who was Austrian, nor Chagall, who was born in Russia but later settled in France, had any links with Venice, so selling off their works is acceptable in tough economic times.
“These are works that have no relation to the artists and cultural history of Venice,” a council official told Il Sole 24 Ore, Italy’s financial daily.
Paintings by Bellini, Canaletto and other artists associated with the World Heritage city would not go under the auctioneer’s hammer.
The mayor said on Friday that the proposal was being carefully studied but that a list of specific art works to be offered for sale had not yet been drawn up.
“It will be necessary to proceed to a careful assessment of the art heritage that we have at our disposition, but at the moment there is no list,” he said.
“Venice’s budgetary situation is well known. Certainly there is the willingness to carry out an in-depth analysis.
“In the absence of other financial resources, the safeguarding of the city could be achieved by giving up some art works which are not connected to the history of the city.”
The proposal will be discussed with officials in Rome in coming days.
The newly elected mayor, a conservative businessman, first mooted the idea of selling off selected art works during his campaign earlier this year.
He said the city is so short of funds that it is having trouble maintaining its centuries-old palazzos, cleaning its canals and paying for its nursery schools.
“It’s pointless to pretend that Italy’s public debt doesn’t exist. If we could reduce it, [the country’s] recovery would be much more robust and we would eliminate a massive weight from our children’s future.
“Venice is ready to inaugurate a practice that could be followed by other cities as well…if Venice can do it, so can Italy.”
It is not the first time that Venice has had to consider selling off the family silver.
One of its most historic palazzos, the Fontego dei Tedeschi, was recently converted into an upmarket shopping centre and islands in the lagoon have also been put up for long-term lease.
Mr Brugnaro has courted controversy since being elected in June.
He decided to order the removal from public libraries of children’s books that portray same-sex families, a decision that earned him the opprobrium of Sir Elton John.
Sir Elton, who has two children with his partner, David Furnish, accused Mr Brugnaro of being “boorishly bigoted” and “stupid” for the decision to ban the books from Venice’s libraries.
The mayor, whom Sir Elton called “extremely silly”, had “stupidly chosen to politicise children’s books by banning titles that touch on same sex families living happily ever after.”
The award-winning British singer told his 190,000 Instagram followers: “Beautiful Venice is indeed sinking, but not as fast as the boorishly bigoted Brugnaro.”