It was to be priced at 1,500 euros. The Spanish government on Thursday blocked the sale of a painting a few hours after the auction, thinking it could be a Caravaggio, the Italian master of chiaroscuro.
An 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 “unbearable“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.
The auction house Ansorena, which was in charge of the auction, confirmed the withdrawal of the painting from the sale.
Given the “speed of events”, it will now be necessary to carry out a technical and scientific study “thorough” to determine, “during an academic debate, whether the attribution to Caravaggio is really plausible”, again underlined the government sources.
“We’ll see if it’s a Caravaggio “, confirmed, during a visit to a contemporary art fair in Madrid, the Spanish Minister of Culture, José Manuel Rodriguez Uribes.
If this is confirmed, according to an expert cited by The Guardian, its value in the private sector is estimated between 100 and 150 million euros. If the painting is sold to a museum, its value would be “limited” to 50 million.
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 canvas by the Italian master (1571-1610).
“It’s him”, she assured in the columns of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. “The purple mantle with which Christ is clothed has the same value as the red of the Salome (with the head of Saint John the Baptist) 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 Neapolitan stay”, she said again.
Expert recognized by all French houses, Eric Turquin is not of this opinion.
“I did not see the painting, but I was not at all convinced by the photo. We cannot be sure, but I do not believe that it is from Caravaggio. (…) I do not see not the hand of Caravaggio in this painting. The subject is certainly Caravaggio, and it was probably painted between 1600 and 1620 by a good painter, but not Caravaggio “, did he declare.
Caravaggio, recalls La Repubblica, had painted in Rome in 1605 an “Ecce Homo” for 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 “Salomé”, 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.
Priced for 30 million euros and estimated at 100 to 150 million, “Judith and Holopherne” had been sold in June 2019 to a foreign buyer, 48 hours before its auction, which had therefore been suspended.
After its discovery in 2014, this painting had been classified by the French State “national treasure”, in order 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 buyer had been identified by the media as an American art collector close to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
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