Sunday, June 13

Caravaggio, painting and authorship in the shadows | Culture


The researchers of Caravaggio (Milan, 1571-Porto Ércole, 1610), a painter whose life and work are full of mysteries, hold conflicting theories and open discussions, much more when a new painting appears. However, an unusual agreement has just been produced: art historians consider that the eccehomo that was to be auctioned in April in Madrid is an original work by the Baroque master (although scholars wait for a technical evaluation before making a definitive statement) . Now the problem lies in tracing its history and establishing its complex relationship with it. most famous eccehomo of this painter, which is kept in the Bianco Palace of Genoa and about whose authorship a heated debate remains open.

These are two different paintings, but with numerous connections that go beyond the traditional representations of eccehomo, the moment of passion when Jesus is presented tortured before the people: in both the same characters appear – Pilatos, Cristo con la crown of thorns and an executioner that puts a cloak on him — with a very original composition. Both reflect the complexity surrounding the attribution, research, and documentation of many of the artist’s paintings. “The Genoa painting is questioned by a group of experts that I trust,” says the Frenchman. Eric Turquin, head of the antiques firm Cabinet Turquin and one of the experts who determined that a painting that appeared in Toulouse in 2016 was Judith and Holofernes, by Caravaggio. “The appearance of the painting in Madrid answers these questions.” To argue his doubts he resorts to the figure of Pilatos and the lack of humanity that he perceives in the Genoese work compared to the Spanish one.

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Most of the experts consulted believe that there is a relationship between the two works, although only Turquin and the Italian historian Massimo Pulini maintain that Caravaggio’s eccehomo is actually the one that appeared in Madrid and not the one in Genoa. Pulini maintains that the painting that was about to be auctioned is the one that Caravaggio was able to paint in 1605 in Rome, commissioned by Cardinal Massimo Massimi.

As so often with Caravaggio, there are never simple answers. Not only was he a highly sought-after painter in his day and one of the most highly valued today — barely 60 paintings are considered authentic. caravaggios-, but he was also a quarrelsome man and a murderer, whose life was full of escapes and exiles, of unfinished or rejected assignments when he surrendered. In fact, the experts are not even clear that Caravaggio ever painted the painting that Massimi asked him to do, in a contest in which he commissioned three eccehomos, in which Domenico Cresti also participated, who was called Passignano, and Ludovico Cardi, Cigoli. Cigoli’s eccehomo is preserved in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, while that of Passignano remains lost.

'The Crowning with Thorns' (1602-1603), canvas by Caravaggio in the Banco Popolare in Vicenza.
‘The Crowning with Thorns’ (1602-1603), canvas by Caravaggio in the Banco Popolare in Vicenza.

This is how David M. Stone, emeritus professor at the University of Delaware (USA) and one of the greatest experts on the painter, explains it: “We know that Massimi commissioned Caravaggio for an eccehomo on June 25, 1605. From a document, we know that it must have been the same size and cost the same amount as a painting that the painter had already made for Massimi, representing the crowning with thorns. Scholars identify the canvas that Massimi had commissioned as the painting now owned by the Banca Popolare di Vicenza, a work measuring 178 centimeters by 125. Caravaggio was in prison, traveled to Genoa and probably did not have time to paint the picture. The eccehomo discovered in Madrid measures 111 centimeters by 86. It is too small to be an accompaniment to the Crowning with thorns”.

Stone considers that the attribution of the Genoa painting to Caravaggio “has become untenable”, while the Madrid work “has a much better chance” of being authentic. Rossella Vodret, historian, has been able to study the work of Genoa in depth and has always maintained that it is not a caravaggio. “It is a very interesting painting, by a good author, but from the point of view of technique and execution it has nothing to do with Caravaggio.” He believes that it could be a copy, or a derivation, even of the one found in Madrid. “At that time the copies worked in a different way than how we see them now. There was a hunger to have Caravaggio paintings, everyone was looking for the original or, failing that, a copy ”, he specifies.

'Eccehomo' (1625) by Mario Minniti, preserved in the cathedral of Mdina (Malta).
‘Eccehomo’ (1625) by Mario Minniti, preserved in the cathedral of Mdina (Malta).

Keith Christiansen, head of European painting at the Metropolitan Museum in New York (Met), does not deny that Caravaggio made an eccehomo for Massimi, since it is a subject that he painted on multiple occasions. “It is a complicated matter. There are five copies of an eccehomo that could be a lost painting by Caravaggio ”, he says,“ and they are all similar and different from the one in Madrid ”. Nor does he believe in the authenticity of the Genoa painting, which he has denied since 1986: “It is a very beautiful piece that in some way must have been an intelligent and imaginative response to a work by Caravaggio.” The appearance of the painting in Madrid has led him to believe that the Genoese work is by the painter Orazio Borgianni.

Little documentation

On the Madrid painting, the documentation is still scarce. It is known that it belongs to the family of politician and diplomat Evaristo Pérez de Castro since 1823, who exchanged it for a alonso cano to the Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando. It remained silent for almost two centuries until April, when it entered an auction for the Ansorena house as a work by the Ribera school, with a starting price (1,500 euros) clearly lower than the real one: at least 30 million in the Spanish market . Its origin and the time it was painted is darker, although it must have been a famous painting because there are at least three copies: one that photographed in 1954 Roberto Longhi, the Italian gallery owner considered the rediscoverer of Caravaggio; other auctioned in Milan in 2013, and a third that was in the United Kingdom, reported by the Italian expert Cristina Terzaghi.

Belén Bartolomé, a 17th-century collector scholar, was the first researcher to locate, in an article published in 1994 in the Prado Museum Bulletin, a painting that matches the one that has appeared in Madrid. His work was an analysis of the inventory of the collection of the Count del Castrillo, viceroy of Naples, who brought it to Spain between 1657 and 1659. There appear two caravaggios: a Salomé exhibited in the Royal Palace of Madrid and an eccehomo thus described: “But another painting of a Heccehomo of five palms with an evangelical frame with a soldier and Pilatos who teaches the People is original by Mº MiÇael Angel Caravacho (sic)”. “Ansorena’s work, by measurements, fits with Castrillo’s inventory,” he explains. “As for how he acquired it, there are many possibilities, considering that he traveled throughout Italy during his viceregal period (1653-January 1659). He also had collectors and dealers, who supplied him with the works he wanted. Once the work arrived in Spain, it could be delivered to Felipe IV, to different convents or to family members, but what we know is that when the count died in 1670, it no longer appeared in his inventory ”.

Copy of Caravaggio's eccehomo appeared in Madrid auctioned in Milan in 2013.
Copy of Caravaggio’s eccehomo appeared in Madrid auctioned in Milan in 2013.

Researcher John Gash, Professor of Art History at the University of Aberdeen (Scotland) and notable caravaggist, is inclined to think that the Madrid canvas is authentic. “If the Madrid painting is a Caravaggio original, my impression is that its dark coloring and deeply introspective mood could relate it to Sicilia in 1608-09. Also striking is the fact that a painting of the eccehomo made by Caravaggio’s friend from Syracuse, Mario Minniti (Museo de la Catedral, Mdina, Malta, 1625) seems to be influenced by the Madrid canvas ”. However, Gash believes that the Genoese canvas is a caravaggio.

The documentation surrounding the Genoa painting is recent, which is not unusual for the painter: given his criminal record, most of the Caravaggio documents that have survived to date are judicial. Many relevant paintings by the artist lack documentary support. Piero Boccardo, superintendent of the artistic heritage of the Genoa City Council, explains that it was only in 1909 that the painting was recorded for the first time and it was cataloged in 1920 as a copy of the painter Leonello Spada. The work decorated the walls of the city’s Engineering Faculty during World War II and the painting was damaged in a bombing.

Photograph of a copy of Caravaggio's eccehomo made by Roberto Longhi in 1954
Photograph of a copy of Caravaggio’s eccehomo made by Roberto Longhi in 1954

After the contest, the director of the museum, Caterina Marcenaro, putting the collections in order, saw the painting and thought that it could be a caravaggio. And he consulted with Longhi, who certified his authorship, although this attribution has always been much discussed among the scientific community. “It is common in the art world, the attribution of pictures is not an exact science,” he points out.

Margherita Priarone, Curator of the Strada Nuova museums (a set that includes the Palacio Bianco), and Raffaella Besta, director of the Musei d’Arte Antica de Genoa, have thoroughly studied this eccehomo and its copies, on which they published an article within the collective work Caravaggio and the Genoese. In an email response they explain that “doubts about attribution have always accompanied the work of the Palacio Bianco, whose authorship, although consolidated over time, is still not unanimously recognized by Italian and foreign critics.” “The identification of the Genoese canvas with the work of the so-called ‘Massimi contest’ had long been ruled out, but until the discovery of the Madrid painting it remained the most convincing visual reference for this commission. A direct comparison with the canvas found in Madrid and with other works by Caravaggio with a similar theme would undoubtedly help to better define that moment of artistic production between Caravaggio and his followers. Who knows, maybe a future exhibition opportunity could be born from this discovery! ”.


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