Disputed Caravaggio masterpiece nabbed before auction

Cabinet Turquin

The buyer and final price of the painting, estimated at $170 million, remain undisclosed.

A painting many believe to be a lost Caravaggio will not go to auction, as an unnamed buyer has snatched it up just days before bidding was set to commence. Discovered earlier this year in the attic of a house in Toulouse, France, the lost masterpiece was expected to command a price exceeding $170 million.

The Guardian reports that a foreign buyer “close to a major museum” made the purchase. According to Marc Labarbe, the local auctioneer who discovered the painting, it was this connection to a museum that convinced the seller to accept the offer.

While the buyer, the final price, and the museum in question all remain a mystery, the painting is sure to go through authentication tests before it hangs on public display. Experts began casting doubt on the origins of the work almost as soon as it was discovered.

Art historian Elizabeth Lev expressed her early thoughts at Aleteia, where she suggested Caravaggio’s method of making incisions in the canvas could be an identifying factor. She also mentioned some stylistic differences between the painting in question and Caravaggio’s other works. She said:

… there is the issue of the Judith of the French painting, who appears to be a portrait of a woman dressed in contemporary widow’s wear, looking out at the viewer. In all of Caravaggio’s extant work, there is only one occasion of a woman looking out at the viewer, the portrait of the courtesan Fillide destroyed in 1945. All other women, including Salome bearing the head of John the Baptist or a female bystander in the Supper of Emmaus, keep their eyes demurely downcast … While Caravaggio had no qualms about breaching protocol, this just wasn’t his style.

Several Italian specialists have cast doubt as well, suggesting that it could be a copy from the Flemish artist Louis Finson, who worked alongside Caravaggio.

Eric Turquin, the specialist who discovered the painting, is convinced that recent x-rays and cleaning of the painting have proven it to be the genuine article. He told the Guardian:

“… the painting was changed a lot as it was painted, with lots of retouching. That proves it is an original,” Turquin said. “Copyists don’t make changes like that. They copy.”

While the painting was previously classified as a “national treasure,” this export bar was not renewed last November. The painting is expected to leave France, but where it will turn up next, nobody knows.

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