This seems to happen every now and then.
A painting found in a French attic has been hailed as a long-lost masterpiece by Caravaggio worth about £100 million ($185m).
A family stumbled on the picture, depicting the story from the Apocrypha of Judith beheading Holofernes, when they unlocked a door in their home near Toulouse to repair water damage. The door had been sealed for more than 150 years.
The 150cm x 180cm painting, dated to 1604-05, had apparently been taken to France by an ancestor of the house’s owner who fought in the Napoleonic Wars in Spain. The painting, which is said to be in excellent condition, was displayed on Tuesday by Eric Turquin, a Paris expert who spent two years investigating its provenance after being called in by an auctioneer.
“Judith Beheading Holofernes must be considered the most important painting, by far, to have emerged in the past 20 years by one of the great masters,” he says.
Other Caravaggio specialists are also convinced of its authenticity, Turquin says, but he acknowledges that not everyone agrees. Another version painted by Caravaggio in 1599 is in the Palazzo Barberini Gallery of Ancient Art in Rome.
After weeks of inspection by the Louvre, the French culture ministry has decreed the painting a treasure that must not be exported for at least 30 months.
The existence of a second Caravaggio study of the tale in which Judith seduces the Assyrian general and cuts off his head to defend her Jewish city had been known from a letter written in 1607 by Frans Pourbus the Younger, a Flemish painter.
He reported seeing the painting in the studio of Louis Finson, an artist and dealer from Bruges who worked with Caravaggio in Rome and painted a copy, now in a Naples museum. The original was mentioned by Finson in his will in 1617.
Turquin’s judgment was backed by Nicola Spinoza, a Caravaggio specialist and former director of the Naples museum that displays the Finson copy.
Turquin says: “I’ve made many mistakes, but this time I am not doing so.” It was “the light, the energy typical of Caravaggio, without mistakes, done with a sure hand and a pictorial style that makes it authentic”.
He estimates its value at about £100m but says it could be worth more because Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio left fewer than 60 works, compared with up to 400 by Rembrandt, whose works sell for about £80m each.
The picture, which like others by Caravaggio was unsigned, shows revisions.
“He painted a sixth finger, which he hid again to make something stronger: the hand of someone who is dying,” Turquin says. “Copiers don’t do that.”
By Charles Bremner
With many thanks to The Australian
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