Could there be a Second Lost Caravaggio Painting Hiding in a Dusty Toulouse Attic?

April 14, 2016

As you probably heard by now a 400 years old Caravaggio's painting was allegedly found in the attic of a private home in Toulouse. The image that's believed to be Judith Beheading Holofernes by the Italian master, whose works are currently on display in Rome, was found after the house owner went up the attic to fix a leak in the roof. And there it was, laying beneath the dust that kept it hidden from generations of house owners. Upon its discovery, the painting was taken to an art dealer where it remains until now. The artwork was estimated at over 120 million euros (about £100m) and French authorities issued an export ban that prevents its removal from the country. And though there are disputes about whether or not the image is truly the work of a great Italian Renaissance master, art historian, Mickael Szanto claims that not only the artwork is real, but that there is another Caravaggio's original hidden nearby.

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Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes (1598), currently hanging in Palazzo Barberini, Photograph Vincenzo FontanaArte & Immagini srl

The Discovery of the Lost Caravaggio Painting

As art history taught us, Caravaggio painted two Judith Beheading Holofernes. One is on display at the National Gallery of Ancient Art in Rome and the other disappeared several centuries ago. In April 2014, a painting that's believed to be Caravaggio's missing Judith Beheading Holofernes was discovered in an attack in Toulouse. The piece was located behind a locked door that had to be broken into in order to fix a leak on the roof. Artwork that depicts a biblical scene of a widow killing a soldier with his own sword is well preserved and is believed to be painted between 1600 and 1610.

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Judith Beheading Holofernes, a disputed Caravaggio discovered in an attic in Toulouse. Photograph: Charles Platiau/ Reuters

Real or Fake: Experts Disagree on the Artwork's Authenticity

Almost immediately the artwork caused a dispute among experts around the world. Eric Turquin, an art dealer who is currently in possession of the piece, is a strong advocate of the artwork's authenticity. “Just look at the quality of the picture: the strength, the energy, the violence, the blackness. This is the utmost of a Counter-Reformation picture, and it cannot be made by anybody else other than Caravaggio.” - Eric Turquin said in an interview for The New York Times. His claims were quickly backed by Nicola Spinoza, former director of the Naples museum. In a written assessment, Nicola Spinoza wrote that "One has to recognize the canvass in question as a true original of the Lombard master, almost certainly identifiable, even if we do not have any tangible or irrefutable proof." The French authorities also reacted by slapping on an export ban and issuing a statement saying that "The painting deserves to be kept on French territory as a very important landmark Caravaggio painting." The export ban means that the piece cannot leave the country for 30 months while it is being studied by experts.

However, not everyone is convinced that the found painting is indeed made by the prominent Baroque master. As Le Quotidien de l’Art reports, artist Mina Gregori said that though she considers the piece to be an "interesting work,” she believes that the painting is, in fact, a copy made by a Flemish artist, Louis Finson. In a column for The Guardian, Jonathan Jones also questions the authenticity of the artwork saying that, although the painting found in Toulouse "has the old master’s cinematic lighting and lurid focus" the piece lacks "the psychological intensity" as the main subject seems absent, "as if she has drifted off right in the middle of hacking off a man's head."

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Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio - David and Goliath, photo via The Moment of Cravaggio

Is there Another Lost Caravaggio Artwork in Toulouse?

While many experts discuss the authenticity of the recently discovered piece, one art historian not only believes in its originality, but also claims that there could be another multi-million dollar Caravaggio masterpiece out there. Mickael Szant, of the Sorbonne University stated for The Daily Mail that another biblical image of David killing Goliath could be located in the proximity of the discovered piece. According to Mickael Szant, the painting was allegedly won in a 17th-century lottery organized by an artist Louis Finson and art dealer Peter de Bruyn. "The team went from town to town with different merchandise. The lots were displayed on a stand and all you had to do was buy a ticket for the draw in a big urn".- Mickael Szant stated for The Daily Mail. According to the Toulouse municipal records, an artwork David and Goliath by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was won by an unnamed lottery ticket owner on April 2nd, 1615. The artist has painted several versions of this image, two of which are kept in the museums in Europe. Mickael Szant is so convinced that the artwork is nearby that he encourages everyone to scrutinize their residencies in search for the missing piece. So if you're in Toulouse or nearby, make sure to check out your attics cause who knows, if you're lucky, you may find a 100 million euros worth Carravagio original laying in the dust. Happy hunting!

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Featured image : Eric Turquin next to the recently discovered piece, photo AFP/Getty Images, via BBC; All images via The Guardian unless otherwise credited

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