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Painting of Christ pulled from auction believed to be authentic Caravaggio

CARAVAGGIO

Anna Pakutina | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 04/27/21

The 17th-century painting was almost sold for $1,812. Now it could command more than $181 million.

A painting that was almost auctioned off for a song may turn out to be worth a king’s ransom. The work, Crowning of Thorns, was originally attributed to Spanish artist José de Ribera, but some experts have suggested it could be an original Caravaggio. Now the oldest commercial gallery in the world has announced it is the genuine article.

According to the Guardian, suspicions arose from the painting’s use of contrast between light and darkness. In the art world this is known as chiaroscuro; a technique developed by da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Caravaggio. Art history professor Maria Cristina Terzaghi further identified pigment reminiscent of those used by Caravaggio, further supporting this theory. She told the Guardian: 

“It’s him. The composition of the red in the purple mantle that covers Christ is the same as the picture of Salome with the head of John the Baptist in the royal palace in Madrid.”

Some experts were not convinced that the painting was from the hand of the Italian master. Nicola Spinosa, a top scholar of 17th-century Italian art, suggested that it was simply “Caravaggesque.” This theory could hold water, as Ribera was a follower of Caravaggio, one who extensively studied the chiaroscuro style. 

CARAVAGGIO

Investigation

Spain’s culture ministry quickly withdrew the piece from the April 8 auction in order to conduct an investigation. A ministry representative noted that the government has placed an export ban pending an “academic debate” over a possible Caravaggio attribution. 

In the weeks since the painting was removed from auction, experts from the Colnaghi gallery have examined the piece. On April 26, The Art Newspaper reported that experts at Colnaghi had discovered evidence that the work was presented to an art competition by Caravaggio himself in 1605. 

Italian dealer Giancarlo Ciaroni said of the painting: 

“We absolutely believe [this is] the work of Caravaggio,” Ciaroni tells The Art Newspaper. “This is indisputable. It’s all well documented. Regarding its acquisition, the painting has already taken its own path.”

The price is now expected to skyrocket. Originally put to the auction block at €1,500 ($1,812), the new attribution could garner up to €50 million ($60.4 million) if sold to a museum. This price could rise even higher, to €150 million ($181.2 million), if sold at private auction.

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