‘New’ Caravaggio doesn’t pan out

The Vatican’s top art historian has nixed a report that suggested a recently discovered painting was the work of Renaissance master Caravaggio.

Antonio Paolucci, head of the Vatican Museums, wrote in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano Monday that the work was most likely a copy of an original by a Caravaggio-influenced artist, according to The Associated Press.

L’Osservatore set the art world aflutter last week with a front-page article headlined “A New Caravaggio,” detailing the artistry behind the “Martyrdom of St. Lawrence,” which had been discovered in the sacristy of a Jesuit church in Rome, the wire service reported.

However, the author of the article, art historian Lydia Salviucci Insolera, had made clear that she was not making any conclusions about the authenticity of the work.

But adding fuel to speculation that the work was a never-before-seen Caravaggio was the fact that the story appeared on the 400th anniversary to the day of the artist’s death.

“The original Caravaggio article published June 18 pointed out that the “The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence” presented features typical of the artist’s style, such as the use of chiaroscuro for dramatic effect and the unique perspective from which the subject is seen,” the wire service reported. “The report also highlighted similarities with other Caravaggio’s paintings, for example in the saint’s hand and body movement.”

But on Monday, Paolucci issued a reversal.

In a front-page article entitled “A New Caravaggio? Not really” Paolucci wrote that the work was not of Caravaggio’s quality and termed it “modest” at best, pointing out in particular that the hands were completely out of perspective, according to The Associated Press.

The painting depicts a semi-naked young man, his mouth open in desperation, one arm stretched out as he leans over amid flames. St. Lawrence was burned to death in 258.

Paolucci said a closer look at the work reveals stylistic shortcomings.

He said that the hands are “wrong in their perspective” and that the subjects’ anatomies were awkward. also noted that the painting technique was “inadequate.”

“The quality isn’t there, whereas in a Caravaggio it always is, and it’s high even when … he uses maximum carelessness and a minimum of his expressive resources,” Paolucci wrote.

Caravaggio died in a Tuscan coastal town in 1610 at age 39 under mysterious circumstances. He had been hugely influential and famous, but had also led a dissolute life of drinking and brawling.

Just last month it was announced that his bones had likely been discovered and that a postmortem suggests he died of sunstroke and syphilis, aggravated by lead poisoning from the paints he mixed.

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