By now you’ve probably heard that there’s a painting found in an attic in France that is being researched to determine whether it is a lost Caravaggio. In this age of fakes and over-enthusiastic rediscoveries, it pays to be skeptical and late. But when the highly skeptical Bendor Grosvenor weighs in, it’s time to pay attention. Here are Grosvenor’s convenient bullet points of what’s gone on and what he thinks:
- First, we know Caravaggio painted a Judith and Holofernes in about 1598/9. That painting (below) is in Rome.
- The claim is that Caravaggio painted another version of the subject at about the same time, and the Toulouse picture is it.
- We apparently know that Caravaggio painted another version of Judith and Holofernes because Caravaggio’s contemporary, Louis Finson, paints a copy of it when he has the original in his studio in 1607. The Finson copy belongs to the Banco di Napoli, and is on display in Naples. It is evidently quite copy-ish.
- The artist Frans Pourbus the Younger saw, we are told, the original Caravaggio in Finson’s studio whilst Finson’s copy was being painted, and wrote about it. This piece of evidence is key,
- Finson, a Flemish artist then working in Naples, apparently owned Caravaggio’s other version of the Judith and Holofernes along with another Caravaggio
- As ever, there are already disputes over the attribution, billed by The Guardian here as ‘splits in the art world’. Caravaggio scholar Mina Gregori has said it is not by Caravaggio. She also said, regular readers will remember, than the late Sir Denis Mahon’s Cardsharps was by Caravaggio (though it is not). The Tribune de l’Art reports that many other experts agree with the attribution to Caravaggio, but few are willing to go on the record.
- A key part of any argument in favour of the painting will be to demonstrate any evidence of the artist’s creative process; that is, any changes (pentimenti) to show that this is the first attempt at that composition, and not another copy by someone else.
- For what it’s worth, I suspect that this picture probably will turn out to be Caravaggio’s lost original.