Art logistics Guide: Exporting Cultural Goods from Italy (Part I)

Art logistics Guide: Exporting Cultural Goods from Italy (Part I)

As a practice originating in the 17th century, the art trade is all the more relevant in today’s globalised world, as thousands of cultural goods circulate inside and outside the borders of numerous countries. Italy, the proud host of the largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, also has an enormous amount of antiquities including sculptures, paintings, art and design objects that have been preserved from past eras. In order to export culture goods from Italy, sellers must follow certain procedures to ensure that they leave the country in compliance with the law. This pertains to furniture and artworks produced more than 50 years ago, but also to contemporary artworks, and in some cases, contemporary pieces of furniture, if they are high-value limited editions. Let's see together what the current regulations are.

The Reform of 2018

From a certain point of view, art can be compared to other goods since it is traded, exchanged and shipped. But there is one key characteristic that distinguishes it: its cultural value. This aspect is very important for the Italian State, which is committed to keeping track of and evaluating all movements of artworks in and out of the country, in order to prevent the export of those pieces which are of exceptional interest for their cultural heritage. In recent years, the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Tourism has been trying to promote the international circulation of cultural goods in order to relaunch the art market in Italy and has decided to approve a new reform (Ministerial Decree no. 246 of 17 May 2018). Specific pieces, including but not limited to, artworks that are more than 70 years old, and whose value is above 13,500 euros, will still need to be presented to the Belle Arti office, and obtaining the formal licence might then take up to a couple of months. But for some other pieces, the process will now be faster, and require less steps. Let's dig deeper into some of the fundamental points introduced by the reform regarding the export of such commodities.

Self-certification for contemporary art works

With this new reform, the “time threshold” beyond which the formal export authorisation of the goods is required has increased from 50 to 70 years. Certain works will not need to be presented to the Belle Arti office, and can obtain a Belle Arti self-certification in approximately a couple of weeks. For instance, if the work, privately owned by an author who is no longer living, is less than 70 years old, it does not have to be presented to the Belle Arti office.

Another point of the new reform concerns the procedure for the export of works of art (by a non-living artist) that are more than 70 years old and whose value is less than 13,500 euros. In this specific case, it will be sufficient to present the "Self-certification of contemporary art" to the Export Office. First of all, you must register with SUE, i.e. the Computerized System of the Export Offices and, by accessing this portal, where you must complete the registration by entering all the required information. Once you have access to the system you will be able to carry out the desired operation - in this case, the declaration for contemporary art works. You will also have to fill in an identification form for the artworks with information and photos, before printing it out and presenting it in person to the export office, where it will be validated. Each self-certification must describe the goods sent in a single shipment. In short, on the one hand you will have the actual declaration, and on the other hand the list of goods that will be sent, with photographs and descriptive data.

At this point, how can one demonstrate or establish that the value of the work is below the threshold of 13,500 euros? Various situations may arise, for example: If there has not been a sale documenting the value of the item, it can either be presented physically to the Export Office for evaluation, or it can be presented with an attached appraisal by an expert from the Register of Technical Advisors of a Court; In the case of a sale between private parties that has taken place in the last three years, there must be an attached copy of the contract signed by the parties or a joint declaration before an authorised public official, declaring the price at which the goods have been sold; In the case of goods purchased at auction or from an art dealers in the last three years, the invoice (or the auction price fixing) will be sufficient to show that the sale price of the goods does not exceed 13,500 euros net of commissions (sale and purchase) and charges (such as insurance costs); If the work has to be exported in order to participate in an auction abroad, it will be sufficient to produce proof from which it is clear that the maximum estimate of the good is not higher than 13,500 euros (for example, the auction catalogue page, the mandate to sell or the valuation of the auction house). It should be noted that, within ten days from the presentation of the self-certification document, the Export Office can proceed to notify those goods that have a value lower than the threshold (under 13,500 euros) but that have "an exceptional artistic, historical, archaeological, or ethno-anthropological interest for the integrity and completeness of the cultural heritage of the Nation". This notification means that the goods may have to be presented in person to the Export Office.

The reform also establishes that all works between the ages of 50-70 can be protected, and therefore if they are of exceptional interest, the notification procedure can be initiated. On the other hand, if the value of the asset is higher than 13 500 euros, then it is necessary to submit a request for permanent (certificate of free movement) or temporary exit.The reform has certainly favoured the circulation of works by Old Masters. Drawings specifically tend to have lower prices than paintings, and it often happens that the price remains below the established threshold. In 2014, Giambattista Tiepolo's "Testa di san Silvestro" was sold at Sotheby's for 10,000 dollars. His son's drawings, Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, entitled "Blindfolded Cupid, armed, with winged putti and doves" was sold for 12,500 dollars at Christie's January 2020 auction. With the current reforms, these two works could leave Italy simply with the self-certification.


The introduction of the new Italian rules has made it easier and faster to export works of art. Convelio organizes many shipments of objects that leave the Italian territory, and it is essential for our team to stay up to date in order to better coordinate with the sellers and all those who have to request and manage these procedures.

April 6, 2020