Caravaggio: ‘Lost’ Painting By Italian Renaissance Master Found In French Attic?

Did someone really stumble on a lost, potentially multi-million dollar Caravaggio painting in a dusty attic? According to some art experts, the answer is yes, although it’s likely the truth about the painting, whose possible value has been estimated at over 100 million euros, may never be fully established.

The Caravaggio painting was found two years ago in a locked room in the attic of a house in southwest France just outside Toulouse where it had apparently been stored for about 150 years. The home’s owners had no inkling that the attic contained a lost Renaissance treasure. It was only when a leaking roof led them to the attic that they stumbled upon the potentially historic find.

Eric Turquin is the French art expert who retrieved the painting in 2014. Turquin examined and cleaned the Caravaggio painting for two years before presenting it at an auction on Tuesday. Turquin’s team found records of the original Caravaggio painting as well as a copy of it by another artist named Finson in 1617. After that date, while the whereabouts of the copy is known to be in Naples, there is no further mention of the original for nearly four centuries until its recent discovery.

According to a Reuters report, a statement issued by Eric Turquin Expertise, a Paris-based art expert agency, lists the potential value of the Caravaggio painting at 120 million euros or over $136 million. The painting is said to be in excellent condition despite its age and the fact it was literally gathering dust in an attic for a century-and-a-half. The Caravaggio painting was presented at a French auction house on Tuesday. The identity of the family whose home held the long lost Caravaggio painting has not been revealed.

Michelangelo Merisi, who has come to be known simply as Caravaggio, is considered a master of the Italian Renaissance period and was active as an artist between 1592 and 1610. In particular, Caravaggio’s paintings are known for their highly realistic three-dimensionality and a dramatic sense of lighting.

In a scene taken from the Book of Judith in the bible, the possible Caravaggio painting depicts Judith beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes. Art experts believe that Caravaggio completed the painting sometime during 1604 to 1605 while the artist was in Rome.

The jury is still out on the painting’s ultimate authenticity. Art experts will use their knowledge of the Italian master’s style to determine if the painting is, indeed, a Caravaggio. Turquin acknowledged that experts are not united in their belief that it is a genuine lost Caravaggio painting, according to a report by the Associated Press.

In the absence of any records detailing the history of the possible Caravaggio painting for 400 years, there may never be a consensus among art historians. Turquin himself, however, is convinced of its artistic and historic value.

“‘Judith Beheading Holofernes’ must be considered the most important painting, by far, to have emerged in the last 20 years by one of the great masters.”

According to the LA Times, Turquin lists the detail in the way the blood has been depicted as it spurts from the Assyrian general’s neck as one of the elements pointing to the hallmarks of a true Caravaggio.

“It was done with a single brush stroke. A copier or a less talented artist wouldn’t have done it like that.”

France’s Culture Ministry has awarded the possible Caravaggio painting with “National Treasure” status, meaning it cannot be taken out of the country for a period of 30 months. The hope is that French museums will be able to acquire the Caravaggio painting in the meantime.

Since the Caravaggio painting arrived in Paris earlier this week, Turquin has been sleeping with it in his bedroom.

[Image by Michel Euler/AP Photo]

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