Lost Caravaggio Masterpiece Sends Shock Waves Through Art World

A lost Caravaggio masterpiece might have been rediscovered thanks to an attic leak. As strange as that sounds, it’s the controversial story coming out of France, one that’s turned the art world on its head.

The Guardian reports that in 2014, a couple living on the outskirts of Toulouse, France, went up into their attic to fix a ceiling leak. By chance, they stumbled across a painting. The artwork depicts the dramatically violent act of Judith beheading Holofernes. Attributed to the Italian Renaissance art master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, if authentic, it would date back to between 1600 and 1610.

However, the question of authenticity isn’t always so easy to answer, and not everyone is convinced the painting now known as the “Caravaggio in the attic” is an actual Caravaggio masterpiece.

In an effort to identify the work, the baffled couple called upon Eric Turquin, a French art expert who’s spent the last two years investigating the authenticity of the lost Caravaggio. The Associated Press writes that in addition to cleaning up the recently discovered masterpiece, he’s also taken it around to various art experts in an effort to determine its genuineness.

“Two Caravaggio experts he consulted with attributed the painting to Louis Finson, a Flemish painter and art dealer who was familiar with Caravaggio, Turquin said. Finson possessed a number of works from the Italian master and made copies of his pictures.

‘But the third expert I met told me that it was not only a Caravaggio, but also a masterpiece,’ Turquin said. ‘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.'”

The status of the artwork, which has been lost to the public for about 150 years, remains a source of controversy throughout the art world. Even so, France is taking absolutely no chances. Multiple news sources reported that the painting was given “National Treasure” status. That means it cannot leave the country for 30 months. The declaration will give plenty of time to establish the work’s authenticity. It will also give French museums plenty of time to jockey for its acquisition.

The question now: Exactly how can investigators determine if this allegedly lost work of art is real when actual art experts aren’t so sure?

Bruno Arciprete, a Naples-based expert, told the Associated Press, “What is required is more scientific research, and then studies by art historians.”

Scientists would use the kinds of testing tools and methods that could positively date the artwork based on a combination of factors, such as “pigments, the type of canvas, and its preparation.” They could also more carefully examine the technique used with the artwork and compare it to confirmed Caravaggio originals to establish if there’s an indisputable similarity. Once that happens, art historians and critics will likely be able to declare one way or another with absolute certainty if this is a lost masterpiece by the Milan-born Renaissance painter.

Turquin has reportedly already submitted it to deep examination, including “infrared reflectography and X-rays.”

If the painting be declared a lost Caravaggio (although Turquin believes there will always be some form of skepticism no matter what), it would be a huge pay-day for the owners of the artwork should they sell the masterpiece. According to expert estimates, the masterpiece could be worth about $135 million.

It’s hard to believe that a pair of stunned homeowners could very well collect a vast fortune for a rare Caravaggio because of a ceiling leak. This is certainly the kind of story that makes you want to check your attic. Who knows what you might find?

What do you think about this bizarre incident? Is the painting truly an authentic Caravaggio that was lost to the world, or is the art world being taken in by an elaborate scam?

[Photo by Gregorio Borgia/AP Images]

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