Two years ago, homeowners near Toulouse, France, wanted to fix their leaky ceiling. In order to get the spot of the problem, they had to break open a sealed door in their attic. Behind the door, they found a roughly five-foot by six-foot painting, which appeared to have been resting there for many, many years. When art expert Eric Turquin examined the canvas, he recognized it as a potential Caravaggio, one of Italy’s greatest masters.
“The very characteristic lighting, the energy typical of Caravaggio, executed without corrections by a confident hand…mean that this must be authentic,” Turquin said during the painting’s unveiling yesterday.
The large canvas, painted between 1600 and 1610, depicts the Biblical scene of Judith beheading the Syrian general Holofernes in his tent. The Independent says that another depiction of that scene by Caravaggio hangs in the National Gallery of Rome. It is known that Carvaggio made a second painting of the scene, which was lost but was copied by the Flemish painter Louis Finson. Turquin thinks this may be that painting.
Turquin consulted with other experts to authenticate the painting with mixed results. Nicolas Spinoza, a Caravaggio expert and former director of a Naples art museum believes the painting is authentic. “The canvas should be considered a true original work by the Lombard master, even if we have no tangible and irrefutable proof,” he wrote in an assessment seen by the AFP.
But according to the Guardian two other Caravaggio experts attribute the canvas to Finson, who was known to make copies of Caravaggio’s work. The French art publication Le Quotidien de l’Art also consulted an expert who doubted that is was Caravaggio, but did say it was of high quality.
Turquin, however, is convinced it is by the Italian master. “A painter is like us, he has tics, and you have all the tics of Caravaggio in this,” he tells Reuters. “Not all of them, but many of them—enough to be sure that this is the hand, this is the writing of this great artist.”
Turquin admits, however, there may never be a consensus on the painting, which has undergone x-ray scans and other tests. Either way, France does not want to let go of the painting, estimated at $137 million, if it is authentic. The French culture minister has embargoed the painting’s sale for three months in hopes that a French museum can raise the funds to buy it. Even if it is not a true Caravaggio, the painting is still worth millions.