Art Auction Halted As Spain Investigates Whether Painting Is Actually A Lost Caravaggio

Top line

The Spanish government intervened to prevent the auctioning of a painting attributed to a little-known Spanish artist after art experts raised concerns that the piece could in fact be by Italian baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.

A woman looks at two paintings, both called “Maria Magdalena in Ecstasy”, by an Italian painter … [+] Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio in 2018.

AFP via Getty Images

Key factors

Spain’s Ministry of Culture on Wednesday put an export ban on the Crown of Thorns, a small oil painting depicting Jesus before he was crucified, after Spain’s national museum, The Prado, raised concerns about the painting on Tuesday.

The crown of thorns was believed to have been painted by followers of José de Ribera, a 17th-century Spanish painter who experts say was heavily influenced by Caravaggio’s work, although some art experts now say the piece may have been misallocated because of the artist has been. similar styles.

Spanish auction house Ansorena pulled the painting from an auction on Thursday, where it was estimated to have sold for less than $ 1,800. If it is indeed a Caravaggio, its true value could be up to $ 180 million if sold to a private collector, an Italian art critic, and politician Vittorio Sgarbi told reporters this week.

Sgarbi was one of the art experts who raised the alarm about the painting’s true origins and continued to believe that Caravaggio was the artist. He pointed out the use of chiaroscuro or dramatic lighting throughout the painting and the composition of the painting, which The Guardians said.

The Spanish authorities were tasked with investigating who really painted the crown of thorns, through “a thorough technical and scientific study,” according to the Ministry of Culture.

Big number

$ 145,500: This is the highest price a Caravaggio piece has fetched at auction, an astonishingly low number for an artist of Caravaggio’s caliber. Caravaggio’s works are rare and are expected to fetch sky-high prices in private sales. In 2019, Judith and Holofernes, a work advertised as a Lost Caravaggio painting, was purchased by a private collector just days before it was due to be auctioned for up to $ 170 million.


It is known that Caravaggio’s paintings sparked debates about attribution, also because his work was not in high demand by art collectors until the 20th century, hundreds of years after his death, and many of the pieces ascribed to him had incomplete provenances.

Key background

Caravaggio’s life was as intense and dramatic as his oil paintings. Caravaggio was born in Milan in 1571 and later moved to Rome, where he successfully painted religious works for churches. Known for drinking and getting into pub fights, he was forced to flee town in 1606 after killing a man at a game of tennis. He spent the rest of his life on the run, traveling and working in Naples, Malta and Sicily, where he continued to run into trouble and fled the authorities. Caravaggio died in Porto Ercole, a small Tuscan port town, in 1610 at the age of only 38, where he was buried in an unmarked grave. His death is still mysterious, and historians believe he may have died of syphilis, malaria, or an assassination attempt by his many enemies.

further reading

A painting that sold for almost 1,500 euros could be Caravaggio’s worth 50 million euros (The Guardian).

Spain: Works to be auctioned off at $ 1,800 may include Caravaggio (Associated Press)

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