• gerard van weyenbergh

A new Caravaggio? Spain blocks the sale.

Offered at 1,500 euros, the Spanish government blocked the sale of a painting on Thursday, a few hours before the auction, believing that it could be a Caravaggio, the Italian master of chiaroscuro.

© Ansorena

This oil on canvas called The Crowning with Thorns and considered until then as the work of a painter from the school of José de Ribera, has been declared "not exportable" and will not be able to leave Spain," as a precaution," government sources told AFP. A decision taken on the basis of a report from the Prado Museum highlighting "sufficient documented and stylistic evidence" to consider that the work is by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, says Caravaggio.

Contacted by AFP, the Ansorena auction house , which was in charge of the auctions, confirmed the withdrawal of the painting from the sale.

Given the "Rapidity of events", it will now be necessary to carry out an "in-depth" technical and scientific study to determine, "during an academic debate, whether the attribution to Caravaggio is really plausible", further underlined the government sources.

"We will see if it is a Caravaggio", confirmed, during a visit to a contemporary art fair in Madrid, the Spanish Minister of Culture, José Manuel Rodriguez Uribes.

Experts divided

Caravaggio specialist Maria Cristina Terzaghi, professor of modern art history at the University of Rome III, who expressed doubts about the author of this Ecce Homo, thinks it could be a painting by the Italian master (1571-1610). "It's him," she assured in the columns of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica . "The purple cloak dressing Christ has the same value as the red of the Salome of the Prado in Madrid", of Caravaggio, according to her. "This work has a deep link with the paintings made" by Caravaggio "at the start of his stay in Neapolitan", she said.

Caravaggio (1571-1610), Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist , c. 1607, 114 x 137 cm, oil on canvas, Prado Museum collection, Madrid.

photo Wikimedia

Expert recognized by all French houses, Eric Turquin is not of this opinion. "I haven't seen the painting, but I haven't been convinced by the photo at all. We can't be sure, but I don't think he's Caravaggio. (...) I don't see Caravaggio's hand in this painting. The subject is certainly Caravaggio, and it was probably painted between 1600 and 1620 by a good painter, but not Caravaggio," he told AFP.

Caravaggio, recalls La Repubblica , had painted in Rome in 1605 an Ecce Homofor Cardinal Massimo Massimi. A painting on the same theme, the description of which corresponds to the painting whose sale was blocked, was inventoried in 1631 in the collection of Juan de Lezcano, Spanish Ambassador to the Holy See, and was in 1657 in Naples, in the collection of García de Avellaneda y Haro, Count of Castrillo and Viceroy of Naples.

The Salome , which has been part of the Spanish royal property since 1666 and can be seen at the Prado, also belonged to the collection of the viceroy. The two paintings could therefore have left Italy for Spain with their owner in 1659.

In an attic in Toulouse

Another canvas, discovered in an attic in Toulouse (southwest of France) and attributed to Caravaggio by experts, including Eric Turquin, has caused much ink to flow in recent years.

The painting Judith cutting off the head of Holofernes (c. 1604-1605?) Discovered in an attic in Toulouse in April 2014. The painting is attributed to Caravaggio by the expert firm Eric Turquin.

© Photo Studio Sebert

Bidding for 30 million euros and estimated at 100 to 150 million, Judith and Holofernes had been sold in June 2019 to a foreign buyer, 48 hours before its auction, which had therefore been suspended.

After the discovery in 2014, this painting was classified by the French State as a "national treasure", to prevent its sale abroad too. But the lack of certainty on its authenticity, which divided the experts, and its value had finally played in the decision of the State not to acquire it.

A few days after the sale, the media identified the buyer as an American art collector close to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

By Alvaro Villalobos, with Gaël Branchereau in Rome

© Le Journal des Arts