A painting discovered in an attic may be a lost authentic work by Italian Renaissance painter Caravaggio, said to be worth up to $137 million (120m euros), French experts said on Tuesday.
The painting, titled ‘”Judith cutting off the head of Holofernes,” was found two years ago in a house near the southwestern city of Toulouse, France. The owners of the house found the 400-year-old painting when they went to fix a hole in the ceiling and discovered the canvas, which measures 57 inches by 69 inches (144 cm by 175 cm), in the rafters.
The dramatic painting has since been attributed to Caravaggio (1571-1610) by private French experts, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
“The large canvass of the beheading of the general Holofernes by Judith from the apocryphal Book of Judith is in remarkably good condition, and was painted between 1600 and 1610, specialists believe.”
The remarkably well-preserved find is being hailed by specialists as a great discovery in the history of art. Speaking at a press conference, expert Eric Turquin characterized the work as having “the light, the energy typical of Caravaggio, without mistakes, done with a sure hand and a pictorial style that makes it authentic,” according to AFP.
Turquin also said that Caravaggio may have painted the gruesome canvas in Naples while on the run from a murder charge in Rome. It depicts Biblical heroine Judith beheading an Assyrian general named Holofernes.
Nicola Spinoza, former director of the prestigious Naples museum and a top Caravaggio specialist, also backed the claims that the painting is an authentic lost work in his assessment, quoted by the AFP report, “One has to recognise the canvass in question as a true original of the Lombard master, almost certainly identifiable, even if we do not have any tangible or irrefutable proof.”
Art experts at the Louvre museum in Paris spent three weeks studying the canvas, and the French Minister of Culture has put an export ban on the work to keep it from leaving the country until the investigations are concluded. In statement quoted by AFP, the Ministry of Culture said that the painting should stay in France “as a very important Caravaggian marker, whose history and attribution are still to be fully investigated.”
The artwork was thoroughly cleaned and underwent deep examination over a period of two years, including infrared reflectography and x-rays, according to reports.
Though several Caravaggio experts have authenticated the work, some other art specialists have questioned the painting’s authenticity, according to The Guardian. Turquin also spoke with two who believed the painting to be by Louis Finson, a disciple of Caravaggio’s who died in 1617.
“Turquin said there will never be a consensus about the name of the artist. Two Caravaggio experts he consulted attributed the painting to Louis Finson, a Flemish painter and art dealer who was familiar with Caravaggio. They say Finson possessed a number of works by 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.”
Turquin added that the painting should be considered the most important painting, by far, to have emerged in the last 20 years.
The AFP report also claimed that Caravaggio expert Mina Gregori was quoted in the French art newspaper Le Quotidien de l’Art as saying that it was “not an original,” although she recognized the “undeniable quality of the work.”
The painting was likely hidden in the roof of the house for more than 150 years. The owners of the house had no idea until they found a door they had never opened, broke it down, and found the picture behind it. It was likely hidden in the attic due to its violent content, which would have made it unsuitable for prominent display.
Marc Labarbe, the auctioneer consulted by the owners, says that the family may have had the painting since at least the middle of the 19th century, and speculates it may have been brought back from Spain by an ancestor who served under Napoleon.
[AP Photo/Michel Euler]