‘Good reasons to believe this is a new Caravaggio’: specialists cautiously vouch for €1,500 painting pulled from Spanish auction

Some experts support the view of the Spanish Ministry of Culture that this painting could have been by Caravaggio
Courtesy Ansorena

Old masters specialists have cautiously welcomed the Spanish government’s decision to impose an export ban on a painting withdrawn from an auction in Madrid last week after curators at the Prado Museum said there was “enough stylistic and documentary evidence “to indicate that it could be an original Caravaggio. The piece was supposed to go under the hammer on April 8th at the Ansorena auction house with a target price of only 1,500 euros.

The Minister of Culture José Manuel Rodríguez Uribes then stepped in and called for the works to be withdrawn from the sale. “Given the speed with which all of this has happened, we now need a thorough technical and scientific study of the painting in question,” a ministry source told the Spanish press. “There has to be an academic debate about whether the Caravaggio attribution is plausible and accepted by the scientific community.”

The small-format painting was included in Ansorena’s online catalog with the title Crown of Thorns and an attribution to the “Circle of [the 17th-century Spanish artist] José de Ribera ”(the auction house had not yet responded to a request for comment at the time of writing about the origin).

“It could end up being a painting by a student of Ribera, as was said. But in any case, our decision is … very appropriate, because the painting is very valuable, ”said Minister of Culture José Manuel Rodríguez Uribes. “Hopefully it will be a Caravaggio.” He also referred to Spain missing out on yet another Caravaggio work, acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art more than 40 years ago.

A Caravaggio specialist, who prefers to remain anonymous, says: “Spain does not want to make another export mistake with Caravaggio. In 1976 they allowed the export of Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of St. Andrew. Caravaggio’s late style was not fully understood at the time, but the attribution is now fully accepted. “On the website of the museum it says under provenance that the work comes from an“ unidentified monastery in Castile, Spain ”.

“It is of course always difficult to make a final judgment from a photo, but yes, this picture could be taken seriously,” says Eric Turquin, the painter specialist of the old master, who previously attributed to Carithaggio Judith and Holofernes (around 1607) .

“Pilate’s head, for example, which looks like a self-portrait, seems very convincing, and Rossella Vodret, a very respected art historian, has found a possible origin for it that seems to fit. Yes, there are very good reasons to believe that this is a potential new Caravaggio in particular [with] the brushstrokes. The very quick highlights on Pilate’s nose along with the brown highlights on the face and the energy of the brush strokes along with the unique quality of the red are very encouraging [colour]”He tells The Art Newspaper.

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