A painting that a French family found in their attic while investigating a leaky roof may be a long-lost Caravaggio. The large canvas depicts the Old Testament scene of Judith beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes, and several experts claim it is the second version, long presumed lost, of Caravaggio’s famous “Judith Beheading Holofernes” (1598–99), which is in the collection of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica in Rome.
The possible Caravaggio is currently on view in the Paris office of Old Master painting dealer Eric Turquin who, along with auctioneer Marc Labarde, has been working to authenticate the work since it was first found by a family in Toulouse in April 2014. It is being offered for sale to the French state for €120 million (~$135 million), and culture minister Audrey Azoulay has designated it a national treasure, which means it is barred from leaving the country for 30 months.
“The ‘Judith Beheading Holofernes’ that has just been identified in a private collection in Toulouse must be considered, by far, the most important painting discovered in the last 20 years, and by one of the universal geniuses of painting,” Turquin said in a statement sent to Hyperallergic. “The rediscovered painting is in exceptional condition for a work four centuries old, and it is perfectly documented.”
Indeed, contemporaneous documents confirm that Caravaggio is known to have painted a second version of the scene in 1604 or 1605 and is believed to have brought the picture with him when he fled Rome for Naples, where it is known to have been as early as 1607. The second “Judith Beheading Holofernes” was owned by the Franco-Flemish art dealer and painter Louis Finson, and a copy of it that he painted is in the collection of the Intesa Sanpaolo bank and on view at the Palazzo Zevallos in Naples. However, the location of Caravaggio’s second “Judith Beheading Holofernes” has been a mystery for centuries.
Several clues in the painting suggest it is indeed the work of the master, most notably the presence of the same model who appears in his 1607 painting “The Crucifixion of St. Andrew.” The older woman painted as Judith’s maid Abra in the newly discovered painting, with her deeply creased face and prominent goiter, is seen staring up at St. Andrew from the lower left-hand corner of Caravaggio’s crucifixion scene. Another detail in favor of authenticating the work is the fact, revealed through infrared imaging, that the canvas lacks any preparatory sketches or marks, which Caravaggio rarely made before beginning to paint.
But if this indeed a real Caravaggio, how did it end up in an attic in Toulouse? “The home’s owners are descendants of an officer in Napoleon’s army,” Turquin told Le Figaro. “Perhaps it is through him that the painting made its way into the family’s possession.”
While Sébastien Allard, the director of France’s national painting collection, pores over a report by the Center for Research and Restoration of the French Museums to attempt to determine the possible Caravaggio’s authenticity and whether or not it should be acquired, Le Figaro has put it to a public vote. As of this writing, 69% of responders think France should buy the painting.
Bobby Wilson Combats Indigenous Stereotypes Through Humor
The artist-performer’s career undulates, ever so gracefully, across multiple mediums and registers of generational pain, healing laughter, and Indigenous joy.
Rare 19th-Century Silhouette Album’s Secrets Unlocked
Traveling portrait artist William Bache’s album depicts famous figures like Thomas Jefferson as well as people whose identity was previously unknown.
Nevada Museum of Art Presents Adaline Kent: The Click of Authenticity
For the first time in nearly 60 years, the innovative yet under-recognized artist is the subject of a retrospective exhibition. On view in Reno, Nevada.
Artists Show What They Can Do With a Google Phone’s Camera
Works by 20 photographers are now on view in Manhattan for the seventh season and 100th project coming out of the Google Creator Labs.
Met Museum Kicked Me Out for Praying to My Ancestral Gods
My danced prayer to looted Cambodian antiquities was too much for the New York museum.
The Public Theater in NYC Presents Plays for the Plague Year
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks’s theatrical concert chronicles the 2020 lockdown and the hope and perseverance that emerged from it.
A Museum Guard’s Ode to the Healing Power of Art
In All the Beauty in the World, Patrick Bringley revisits the many ways that art meets life, and life art, and how death is often the bridge between them.
UK Extends Export Ban on Coveted “Portrait of Omai”
London’s National Portrait Gallery was given a few months to acquire the work, which depicts the first Polynesian visitor to the UK.
Mondays at Pratt Institute: Weekly Openings of Work by Graduating Artists
Free and open to the public, Pratt Shows celebrate the school’s graduating students. MFA and BFA work on view this spring in Brooklyn, New York.
The Sculptor Making Art With Loved Ones’ Ashes
Inspired by the three-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, Julian Stair’s exhibition honors the lives of eight people with cinerary jars.
Art Institute of Chicago Under Scrutiny Over Sacred Nepali Necklace
The 17th-century object remains on display at the Chicago museum despite Nepal’s calls for repatriation.
LSU School of Art Grants Highest MFA Stipends in the Southern US
With funded assistantships, full tuition waivers, and generous stipends, Louisiana State University helps students lay the groundwork for a successful lifelong art practice.
Art Problems: How Do I Get a Public Art Commission?
Want to leave a mark on your city or town, but don’t know where to start? Paddy Johnson has some tips.
Rose B. Simpson Embeds Ancestral Histories in Clay
She has taken clay and used it to recall its ancestral roots in Pueblo culture and address the present history of postcolonial recovery and ongoing trauma.
Whatever the ultimate ruling, it looks much worse than the officially attributed painting. Interesting either way though.
Caption: 2 minutes later, the maid chastises Judith for making such a mess while Holofernes, still gasping for air, bleeds out.
Yes of course France should buy it. Better that it should be in a museum than in the penthouse of some billionaire. Keep it off the auction block.
Comments are closed.