This Painting Was About to Hit the Auction Block for Just $1,780. Then Experts Discovered It Might Be a Caravaggio Worth Millions

The Spanish Ministry of Culture blocked the auction of a 17th-century painting after experts suspected that it was not made by a follower of Caravaggio, as previously believed, but by the master of the Renaissance himself.

The artwork in question, a 44 x 34 inch oil-on-canvas depiction of Ecce Homo depicting Jesus Christ in a crown of thorns before his crucifixion, was attributed to Spanish artist José de Ribera, a follower of Caravaggio. It should be valued at a meager 1,500 euros (1,780 US dollars) today at the Ansorena Auction house in Madrid.

But before the sale took place, the Spanish state implemented an export ban on the painting. That decision came after experts at the Prado Museum said there was “enough stylistic and documentary evidence” to suggest that this may have been done by Caravaggio himself on a ministry statement. Ansorena then withdrew the job from the sale.

When it is actually the work of Caravaggio, it would probably be worth millions.

Prado officials did not respond to a request for comment.

“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 spokesman for the Ministry of Culture told the Guardian.

“There needs to be an academic debate about whether the Caravaggio attribution is plausible and accepted by the scientific community,” added the source.

A well-known Spanish school painter, De Ribera was born near Valencia, Spain, in the late 16th century. By 1612 the young artist had moved to Rome, where he dealt intensively with the Italian master Caravaggio and his followers Academy of San Luca. (Whether or not de Ribera crossed paths with his icon, who died in 1610, is the subject of scientific debate.)

Maria Cristina Terzaghi, a Caravaggio expert at the University of Rome, was one of the first to identify the painting, according to the Spanish news agency The country. She booked a plane ticket to Madrid after a friend brought her to the auction. “It’s a Caravaggio,” she told the newspaper. “I have no doubts.” (Terzaghi did not immediately respond to an email from Artnet.)

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