Italian art historians 'find 100 Caravaggio paintings'
ITALIAN art historians claim they have found 100 previously unknown works by Caravaggio, one of the giants of the Renaissance.
The sketches and paintings, if proved to be authentic, would be worth an estimated €700 million.
Experts said that after two years of rigorous analysis, they had found “remarkable similarities” between the newly-discovered works, kept in a castle in Milan, and the known works of Caravaggio.
But the announcement came out of the blue, caused an immediate storm in the art world and raised as many questions as it answered.
The historians apparently managed to keep their research a secret for two years, but on Friday their findings will be published in a lavish, two-volume, 600-page e-book in four languages.
The works are believed to date from Caravaggio’s earliest years as a painter, when he was a young apprentice under Simone Peterzano, a mannerist painter in Milan, from 1584 to 1588.
They were found in a collection of paintings and drawings from the workshop of Peterzano which has been held in a castle in Milan, Castello Sforzesco, since 1924, after they were transferred there from a nearby church.
The archive contains 1,378 paintings and drawings by Peterzano and the young artists who were tutored by him.
Two years ago Maurizio Bernardelli Curuz, the artistic director of the Brescia Museum Foundation, and his co-researcher, Adriana Conconi Fedrigolli, began to scrutinise the collection in earnest.
“We always felt it was impossible that Caravaggio left no record, no studies in the workshop ... of his mentor,” Mr Bernadelli Curuz told ANSA, the Italian news agency.
They compared known Caravaggio masterpieces in churches and museums with the sketches and paintings in the castle archive and found “startling” similarities between the two bodies of work.
The drawings were an early template for “the faces, bodies and scenes the young Caravaggio would use in later years,” the experts told ANSA.
They even claimed to have found a scrap of paper with Caravaggio’s signature and say it has been authenticated by handwriting experts.
The art historians believe that the artist, whose real name was Michelangelo Merisi, developed distinctive styles and techniques in those early years that provided the foundation for the rest of his career.
“Every artist has a matrix style, unique to them that is distinguishable through the postures and body types in their sketches. They memorize them as students, learning by force of repetition, and carry them into maturity for their later works,” said Mr Bernardelli Curuz.
“Caravaggio left Lombardy (the region around Milan) with a rich collection of figures that he used throughout his career, but especially in his early years working in Rome. These works are proof,” he said.
But the city of Milan, which owns the castle and the collection, yesterday sounded a sceptical note.
“The drawings have always been there, and have never yet been attributed to Caravaggio,” said Elena Conenna, the council’s spokeswoman for culture.
“We’ll be very happy to discover it’s true. But it’s strange. They weren’t in a hidden place, they were accessible to all.”
Stefano Boeri, a cultural official with Milan city council, was also cautious. He said he would also be delighted if the attribution was proved correct, but that the claims should be studied by a panel of experts.
There did seem, however, to be striking likenesses between the newly “discovered” works and some of Caravaggio’s most celebrated paintings – for instance between the face of Christ in 'Supper in Emmaus’ and a sketch of a man’s head from the castle collection.
There was also a similarity between the drawing of an old man with a beard, and the face of a soldier in 'The Conversion of Saul’.
One of the most striking matches was between a sketch of an old man’s wizened, wrinkled face and a figure in Caravaggio’s 'Judith Beheading Holofernes’, painted in 1598, which shows the widow Judith decapitating the Assyrian general Holofernes.
Caravaggio, who lived from 1571 to 1610, was notorious for his mercurial temper and penchant for brawling.
He had to flee Rome for Sicily after a fight in which he killed a man. He later became involved in a brawl in Malta in which he wounded a knight.
His death, at the age of 36 in Porto Ercole on the coast of Tuscany, has been blamed variously on malaria, an intestinal infection and lead poisoning. In April an Italian art historian put forward a new theory – that the artist was murdered on the orders of the Knights of Malta to avenge the attack on one of their members.
Vincenzo Pacelli said he had found evidence in the Vatican Secret Archives and other sources in Rome that the chivalric order, which was formed during the Crusades, had Caravaggio’s body dumped in the sea near Civitavecchia north of Rome.