A company linked to the Vatican Museums accused of “high-tech heist”

ROME—A publishing house specializing in fine glossy books featuring Vatican Renaissance art has been accused of brokering deals without permission from the Holy See. The Scripta Maneant company, Latin for “the written words remain”, has been accused of selling rights to the artwork in “six-figure deals” without Vatican approval, according to conservative news outlet Daily Wire.

The Daily Beast confirmed the allegation with Sarah Rose Speno, a lawyer in New York who says she tried to license images of the Sistine Chapel and other Vatican masterpieces for a client who told them. a views in a book published by Scripta Maneant.

When she contacted the company for licensing rights, they assured her they could license the footage, but demanded more than $82,000 to be wired to the company’s Italian bank account. When Speno asked for proof that the Vatican approved the license, she said the company said “if and only if” it transferred the funds, it would later provide the proof. “This scheme is nothing less than a meditated high-tech burglary of precious world-class art from the Vatican Museums under the disguise of fake licenses, as if sanctioned by the Vatican,” Speno said.

The outlet then contacted Monsignor Paolo Nicolini, the vice president of the Vatican Museums, who said he had sold Scripta Maneant’s rights to the images of the coffee table book – which sells for $22,000 a copy – in 2015 for one-time non-global use. Scripta Maneant, however, claimed they had every right to license the images in the book and, in fact, were working directly with Nicolini on a case-by-case basis for future rights, which the Prelate said. denied.

But in early November, when the Daily Wire first contacted the Vatican for confirmation of Nicolini’s denial, Pope Francis summoned the monsignor for a private audience, according to the pope’s public journal of meetings. The content of these private audiences is rarely made public and information about the pontiff’s meeting with Nicolini remains sealed.

When contacted for comment, Scripta Maneant released a statement signed by CEO Giorgio Armaroli denying that his company has the ability to license Vatican art, although it has attempted to charge Speno more. $80,000 for these rights. “Scripta Maneant has never declared and will never declare that it can transfer an image or an image license to anyone, neither for this type of activity nor for purely editorial activities,” Armaroli states in the communicated. They would neither confirm nor deny having charged Speno the colossal sum.

But in 2022, Scripta Maneant licensed the rights to several images appearing in the expensive coffee table to a company called Lighthouse Immersive, which produced an interactive virtual reality experience called Immersive Vatican that advertises the nearly $80 bill. as “in collaboration with the Vatican.” The exhibit ended Nov. 7, the day the pope met Nicolini.

The Vatican did not respond to a request for clarification, and Nicolini’s office told The Daily Beast the monsignor could not comment on the matter. But Nicolini told the Daily Wire that he never granted Lighthouse Immersive or Scripta Maneant the right to use images, including the Sistine Chapel, which visitors to the sacred space are prohibited from viewing. photograph.

While original artwork inside the Vatican may be in the public domain, photographs of the artwork are protected by Vatican copyright as a “unique work” and, as such, it is illegal to produce them without permission. If Nicolini is in cahoots with Scripta Maneant, it could result in his dismissal from the hierarchy of the Vatican Museums. If Scripta Maneant is, in fact, authorizing images they don’t have permission to do, they could owe the Vatican, a faithful collector of all debts, thousands of lost rights. The Vatican regularly sells rights to its 70,000 works of art, but not through third parties.

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