Spain’s Prado Museum Will Showcase a Lost Caravaggio That Nearly Sold for Under $2,000

The rediscovered painting is one of 60 known pieces by the Italian artist and “one of the most valuable old master artworks in the world”

Ecce Homo by Caravaggio
From May 28 until October, the Prado Museum in Madrid will display Caravaggio's rediscovered Ecce Homo. @MuseodelPrado on X

A rare Caravaggio painting, which was once misattributed with a shockingly low price tag of $1,800, will go on display at the Prado Museum in Madrid.

In April 2021, the painting, Ecce Homo, depicting Christ in a crown of thorns, caused some serious ruckus after the Ansorena auction house in Spain announced plans to auction the piece for €1,500 (about $1,800 at the time). The auction house had attributed the work to the "circle of [the 17th-century Spanish artist] José de Ribera."

However, the item never made it to the sale. Experts at the Prado Museum began to chime in that there was “sufficient stylistic and documentary evidence” the painting could actually come from Caravaggio, per the Art Newspaper’s Gareth Harris. The Comunidad de Madrid regional government stepped in giving the painting protected heritage status, and the Spanish government created an export ban so that the piece could not leave the country. Anthony Crichton-Stuart, a former Christie’s specialist, told the New York Times’ Scott Reyburn at the time that he believed the painting may actually be worth “at least €50 million.”

The Ecce Homo painting showcases hallmarks of the old master's style, such as a dramatic contrast of light and shadow, dark realism and an intense charge of emotion on the figure’s faces.

“When I saw it, it went ‘boom,’” London-based art dealer Marco Voena told the New York Times. “It’s Caravaggio, completely. It’s incredible. It has great power.”

Now, three years later, the Prado is confirming that Ecce Homo is an original from the Italian Baroque master.

“Since its reappearance at an auction three years ago, Ecce Homo has represented one of the greatest discoveries in the history of art,” the Prado says in a statement. “Four of the most authoritative experts on Caravaggio and Baroque painting...all share the same passionate certainty: that Ecce Homo is a masterpiece by the Italian artist.”

The painting, which the museum calls “one of the most valuable old master artworks in the world,” is one of about 60 known Caravaggios in existence. Prado experts believe that the Italian painter created the piece around 1605 to 1609 and that the painting was part of the royal collection of King Philip IV of Spain.

“During the Napoleonic invasion, it left the royal collection and it had been in a private family collection in Madrid since the 19th century,” the Prado’s director Miguel Falomir tells the Guardian’s Sam Jones. “The family recently decided to sell the picture to a private buyer, and this person became interested in exhibiting this very important work at the Prado.”

Prado experts have conducted intensive restoration work on Caravaggio’s Ecce Homo. The rediscovered painting will go on display on May 28 for an exclusive one-piece exhibition at the museum, which will run until October 2024.

“It’s an enormous opportunity and one we’re thrilled about,” Falomir tells the Guardian. “We’re also celebrating the fact that this great work of art will stay in Spain and become part of Spain’s culture.”

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