New Caravaggio said to have been uncovered in France

Judith Beheading Holofernes

While its authenticity has yet to be fully determined, a painting discovered in a French attic is being attributed by some to the Italian master Caravaggio.

At least one expert said the 400-plus-year-old work, called “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” could be worth as much as $135 million.

However, experts aren’t in agreement as yet regarding the work’s authenticity, with some attributing the painting to Louis Finson, a Flemish painter and art dealer. Finson possessed a number of works from the Italian master and made copies of his pictures, according to the Associated Press.

The painting was discovered two years ago in Toulouse, in southern France, when the owners of the house went into the attic to repair a leak.

The picture was kept out of the public eye while it was cleaned and submitted to a deep examination that included infra-red reflectography and X-rays, the wire service added.

Judith Beheading Holofernes, said to be by Caravaggio, on display in Paris.

Judith Beheading Holofernes, said to be by Caravaggio, on display in Paris.

Eric Turquin, the French expert who retrieved the painting two years ago, said it is in an exceptional state of conservation.

The work depicts the biblical heroine Judith beheading an Assyrian general and is thought to have been painted in Rome around 1600.

The work is believed to have gone missing about 100 years after it was painted. Another version of it, which was also thought to be lost before its rediscovery in 1950, hangs in Rome’s National Gallery of Ancient Art, according to the BBC.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) was among the most innovative of the Renaissance painters, and his works are often spectacular for their realism and dramatic lighting. Only about 80 of Caravaggio’s paintings survive.

Turquin told a news conference Tuesday that there “will never be a consensus” about the artist.

Turquin believes the work “must be considered the most important painting, by far, to have emerged in the last 20 years by one of the great masters.”

The picture has been awarded “National Treasure” status by French authorities, meaning that it can’t be exported for 30 months, leaving the national museums enough time for its acquisition.

While the work has yet to be authenticated, France’s Culture Ministry justified its decision to ban the export of the painting because it “deserves to be kept on (French) territory as a very important landmark of Caravaggism.”

Bruno Arciprete, the Naples-based expert who restored Caravaggio’s “Flagellation of the Christ” and “Seven Works of Mercy,” said the painting could well be a Caravaggio but that further studies are needed.

“It has interesting characteristics that can be attributed to Caravaggio,” he told the Associated Press.

Arciprete said he saw the work a few months ago in Paris and came away with a “very good impression.”

“What is required is more scientific research, and then studies by art historians,” to specifically look at the technique, pigments, the type of canvas and its preparation to see if they correspond to those used by Caravaggio, he said.

On the other hand, Richard E. Spear, a scholar of Italian Baroque art who is an expert on Caravaggio, said he was “highly dubious” that the Italian master actually painted the art work.

Spear, who has only seen photos of the painting, told the AP that he wasn’t convinced by the handling of the brushwork and that some anatomical details of the characters raised questions.

“Altogether, the picture looks rather coarse and heavy to me,” he said.

(Top: “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” a different version of the work discovered in the attic of a house in southern France recently and purported to be the work of Renaissance master Caravaggio. The above is part of the collection of the National Gallery of Ancient Art in Rome.)


Technique allows ‘peek’ beneath surface of works of Old Masters

the madonna and child

Non-invasive surgery is often embraced by patients – especially the squeamish – as potential benefits include minimal discomfort and trauma, reduced recovery time and no scars or post-operative complications.

Now researchers in England are applying the same non-invasive concept to the examination of the works of Old Masters.

Officials from Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology and The National Gallery in London have developed an instrument capable of capturing high-resolution details from beneath the surface of works by such luminaries as Vermeer, Rembrandt and Van Eyck.

The instrument, detailed in a paper in Optics Express, will allow conservators and conservation scientists to more effectively peek beneath the surface of paintings to learn not only how the artist built up the original composition, but also what coatings have been applied to it over the years.

The latter is important because many great works of western art are covered with several coats of varnish, applied at different times over the centuries. Varnish was applied to protect the paint and make colors appear more vivid but over time it can break down.

The goal is to carefully clean off the old varnish and replace it with new, but to do this safely it helps to understand the materials and structure of the painting beneath the surface. Analyzing the hidden layers of paint and varnish can aid conservation scientists in gathering this information.

Until recently, analyzing the layers of a painting required taking a very small physical sample – usually around a quarter of a millimeter across – for viewing under a microscope. Doing so enables researchers to see a cross-section of the painting’s layers, which can be imaged at high resolution and analyzed to gain detailed information on the chemical composition of the paint.

Because it requires removing some of the original paint, conservation scientists had to operate very carefully, usually only taking minute samples from an already-damaged area of the work.

However, non-invasive imaging techniques researchers such as Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT), originally developed for medical imaging, have proven useful in art conservation.

Continue reading

Neglected painting identified as a van Dyke

(c) The Bowes Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

An English museum has received confirmation that a painting in its collection since the 19th century is the work of Flemish Baroque master Anthony van Dyck.

Portrait of Olive Boteler Porter was purchased by the founders of the Bowes Museum in 1866 and has been in its collection since it opened to the public in 1892. However, because the work was in poor condition, it had long been relegated to storage.

“Its sophisticated drapery, coloring and facial expression are typical of van Dyck’s female portraits of the 1630s, although they were overlooked due to the painting’s poor condition, leading to it being recorded in the Museum’s files as, ‘School of Van Dyck,’” according to the museum.

But it was only through the Public Catalogue Foundation and the BBC’s Your Paintings website that the true identity of the artist was discovered.

“Art historian and dealer Dr. Bendor Grosvenor was perusing the Public Catalogue Foundation’s massive database of all 210,000 publicly owned paintings in the UK … to research an upcoming exhibition when he spotted the Portrait of Olive Boteler Porter,” according to The History Blog.

When Grosvenor suggested that it could be a work by van Dyke himself, the museum enlisted him and his colleagues at Philip Mould & Co., who have conserved more than 20 Van Dyck’s, to restore the painting.

Continue reading

Officials arrest three in 2012 art heist

Charing Cross Bridge monet

Authorities in Romania have arrested three men suspected of stealing paintings worth tens of millions of dollars late last year from Rotterdam’s Kunsthal museum.

Thieves made off with seven paintings, including works by Monet, Matisse, Picasso and Gauguin, in a brazen and meticulously planned operation last October.

A Bucharest district court made a ruling last month that allows authorities to hold the three men for 29 days, Reuters reported, citing the Romanian news agency Mediafax.

The seven masterpieces were stolen in a pre-dawn heist from Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam, the biggest such theft in the Netherlands in more than two decades.

The stolen paintings were: Pablo Picasso’s 1971 “Harlequin Head”; Claude Monet’s 1901 “Waterloo Bridge, London” and “Charing Cross Bridge, London”; Henri Matisse’s 1919 “Reading Girl in White and Yellow”; Paul Gauguin’s 1898 “Girl in Front of Open Window”; Meyer de Haan’s “Self-Portrait,” around 1890, and Lucian Freud’s 2002 work “Woman with Eyes Closed.”

It is the biggest art theft in The Netherlands since 20 paintings were stolen from Amsterdam’s Van Gogh museum in 1991.

Continue reading

Long-missing Matisse recovered in Europe

le jardin

A quarter century after an impressionist work by Henri Matisse was taken from a Swedish museum by a thief wielding a sledgehammer, the 1920 painting has been recovered.

The work, “Le Jardin,” an oil on canvas now worth approximately $1 million, was about to be sold when dealer Charles Roberts ran it through a global database of stolen art – standard practice before a sale, according to Agence France-Presse.

Roberts, who runs Charles Fine Art in southern England, said he was stunned to discover the Matisse had been filched in May 1987.

“It’s not something that happens every day,” Roberts said. “I’m glad I found out now rather than later.”

Roberts said the current Polish owner, whom he did not name, had bought the artwork in good faith 20 years ago, according to the Associated Press.

Christopher Marinello, a lawyer working with the London-based Art Loss Register, which tracks stolen, missing and looted art, said the painting, valued at about $1 million, would be returned to Stockholm’s Moderna Museet.

Continue reading

Lost masterpiece said to be in Uzbekistan


Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where the largest statue of Vladimir Lenin once resided for decades, may be home to a lost masterpiece of Renaissance art.

One of Paolo Veronese’s versions of “Lamentation of Christ” has gone on display at the Uzbek State Arts Museum, according to Uzbek experts. Officials with the museum say it is one of several versions of the 16th century work the Italian artist painted that portrays the lamentation after Christ’s descent from the cross.

However the Italian embassy in Tashkent has urged caution, saying while the show is a remarkable event, further work will be needed to confirm that the picture is a genuine Veronese, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Arts Museum said the work was brought to Uzbekistan in the 19th century when the territory was part of the Russian Empire. It was part of the collection which belonged to the Romanovs, Russia’s last dynasty.

“The painting came to Tashkent as part of the luggage of Grand Duke Nikolai Konstantinovich Romanov, the grandson of Tsar Nicolas I who was exiled to Uzbekistan after falling out with the royal family over an affair with an American woman,” according to the wire service.

Veronese, Titian and Tintoretto are known as the pre-eminent Venetian painters of the late Renaissance. Veronese is touted for his work with colors and for his illusionistic decorations in both fresco and oil, according to art historian Lawrence Gowing.

Continue reading

Italian cathedral unveils magnificent mosaics

Called “the most beautiful, the greatest and most magnificent floor” ever created, the sweeping marble panels which make up the floor of the Siena Cathedral in Italy are so spectacular that they are unveiled for just a few weeks each year.

Recently, the stunning Renaissance mosaics were revealed, giving visitors a chance to glimpse scenes local artists worked centuries to create.

Made up of 56 panels designed by some 40 artists, the inlaid panels are usually covered to protect them from the thousands of visitors who flock to Siena each year, according to Agence France-Presse.

They depict vivid stories from the Bible and classical antiquity, in black, white, green, red and blue marble, with some dating back to the 14th century.

The marble mosaics cover the entire floor of the cathedral.

Most of the panels, created between the 14th and 16th centuries, have a rectangular shape, but the later ones are hexagons or rhombuses.

They represent many different concepts, including the sibyls, scenes from the Old Testament, allegories and virtues.

Continue reading