The art auction is stopped while Spain investigates whether the painting is actually a lost caravan

Heat

The Spanish government stepped in to prevent the auction of a painting attributed to a little-known Spanish artist after art experts expressed concern that the work might be by Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.

Key facts

The Spanish Ministry of Culture issued an export ban on Wednesday Crown of thorns, a small oil painting depicting Jesus before he was crucified, after Spain’s Prado National Museum came in contact with concerns about the painting on Tuesday.

Crown of thorns it was believed to have been painted by followers of José de Ribera, a 17th-century Spanish painter who experts say was influenced by Caravaggio’s work, although some art experts now say the work may have been wrongly assigned because of similar artist styles.

Spanish auction house Ansorena withdrew the painting from auction on Thursday, where it is estimated to sell for less than $ 1,800 – if indeed Caravaggio, the real value could be as high as $ 180 million if sold to a private collector, Italian art critic and politician Vittorio Sgarbi told reporters this week.

Sgarbi was one of the art experts who raised alarms about the true origin of the painting and remained convinced that Caravaggio was an artist, pointing out that the painting used chiaroscuro, or dramatic lighting, and a composition of a painting resembling the confirmed works of Caravaggio, according to The Guardian.

The Spanish authorities had the task of investigating who really painted Crown of thorns through a “deep technical and scientific study”, according to the Ministry of Culture.

Big number

145,500 USD: That’s the highest price Caravaggio piece has achieved at auction, a staggeringly low figure for an artist of Caravaggio caliber. Caravaggio’s works are rare and are thought to fetch sky-high prices in private sale. In 2019, Judith and Holofernes, a work advertised as a lost painting by Caravaggio, was bought by a private collector just days before it was put up for auction for as much as $ 170 million.

Tangent

Caravaggio’s paintings are known to spark discussions about attribution, in part because art collectors sought his work only until the 20th century, hundreds of years after he died, leading many of the parts attributed to him to have provenance.

Key background

Caravaggio’s life was as intense and dramatic as his paintings on canvas. Caravaggio was born in Milan in 1571 and later moved to Rome, where he achieved success in painting religious works for churches. He was known for drinking and fighting in taverns, and was forced to flee the city in 1606 after killing a man during a game of tennis. He spent the rest of his life on the run, traveling and working in Naples, Malta and Sicily, where he continued to get into trouble and flee power. Caravaggio died in 1610 at the age of only 38 in Porto Ercole, a small Tuscan port town, where he is buried in an unmarked grave. His death is still shrouded in mystery, and historians believe he may have died of syphilis, malaria, or the assassination of his many enemies.

Further reading

The painting, which almost sold for 1,500 euros, could be a Caravaggio worth 50 million euros (The Guardian)

Spain: Work on $ 1,800 auction could be Caravaggio (Associated Press)

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