The Enigmatic Case of Caravaggio’s “Lost Masterpiece”

A Brushstroke of Mystery

In an unexpected turn of events, a painting presumed to be Caravaggio’s lost masterpiece, “Judith and Holofernes,” was acquired by a private buyer just days before it was scheduled to be auctioned in France. Discovered beneath an old mattress in a Toulouse attic, the painting has been a subject of intense scrutiny and debate among art experts.

The Players in the Drama

Eric Turquin, a French authority on Old Masters, appraised the painting between โ‚ฌ100m and โ‚ฌ150m ($170m), despite ongoing scepticism from Italian specialists. Local auctioneer Marc Labarbe, who unearthed the artwork while valuing “old things in the attic,” revealed that the buyer was affiliated with a major museum. However, due to a confidentiality agreement, further details were kept under wraps.

The Question of Authenticity

The controversy doesn’t just stop at the buyer’s identity. While Turquin is convinced that the painting is an original Caravaggio, others suspect it may be a replica by Flemish artist Louis Finson, who collaborated with Caravaggio. Turquin argues that the painting’s alterations during its creation suggest it is an original, stating, “Copyists don’t make changes like that. They copy.”

From Rome to Toulouse

The painting is thought to mark a pivotal moment in Caravaggio’s career, contrasting his earlier, more formal work on the same theme, which hangs in Rome’s Palazzo Barberini. The anonymity surrounding the paintingโ€™s previous owners has led to speculation that it may have been brought to France by an ancestor who served in Napoleonโ€™s army.

Destination Unknown

While the painting was designated a “national treasure” in France, an export ban was not renewed, making it possible for the artwork to leave the country. Whether it turns out to be a genuine Caravaggio or not, the painting’s sudden pre-auction acquisition adds another layer to its already complex history.

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