It has been a busy week for Caravaggio experts. A long-simmering court case involving the Card Sharps, above, is finally reaching court in London just as a connoisseur is claiming to have found the true original to the painters Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy, according to The Guardian:
Mina Gregori, 90, president of the Roberto Longhi foundation of art history studies in Florence and author of several books on the baroque painter, said she was 100% sure she had found the original Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy.
“I have become a connoisseur,” she said. “And I know a Caravaggio when I see one.”
A number of elements had combined to give her complete certainty, she said, that the oil on canvas she was presented with this year was the real thing.
There are several different versions of the Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy, and until now the one thought most likely by art historians to be the 1606 original was lying in a private collection in Rome.
Gregori, however, believes the game is up for all the pretenders. What she describes as the “memory archive” that all connoisseurs carry within them was activated, she said, when she saw the newly discovered painting.
A “memory archive” is inconvenient for independent verification, especially when the connoisseur says the owners don’t want to be identified. But this reliance on experts has caused Sotheby’s some trouble when it sold a work deemed to be a copy that was bought by an eminent art historian who later gifted the work to UK as a genuine Caravaggio.
The seller, Lancelot Thwaytes, blames Sotheby’s for not being thorough enough. Though it is interesting that the case come down to Sotheby’s choice of scientific tests, not its connoisseurship:
Henry Legge QC, representing Mr Thwaytes, told the court the case was a “very simple story”, alleging Sotheby’s did not do the tests the owner had requested.
“They came back to him and said they had done the X-rays on the painting and said it wasn’t Caravaggio, but they didn’t do infrared imaging,” he said.
“When it was sold the new owner had it cleaned and submitted it to the tests, including infrared and it was subsequently attributed to Caravaggio. […]
Sotheby’s denies any accusation of “negligence, causation and loss”, insisting its experts assessed the painting correctly and that “all due skill and diligence” had been applied.
It will argue the painting is “clearly” a replica, citing a range of Caravaggio scholars who support its view.