The swap document of 1823 by which Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando delivers a painting by Caravaggio to the liberal politician Evaristo Pérez de Castro. It consists of 36 pages, which allow us to trace the evolution of the process and which provide some surprises. EL PAÍS has had access to this complete file, which is kept in the academy archive and which shows that it was not Pérez de Castro’s favorite work to exchange with his alonso cano. And, most importantly, it accredits that the academy chose the caravaggio ―Quoted in fourth place of preferences by the politician― because he did not know where they came from and, therefore, would avoid future claims from the previous owners. The investigations of the last weeks have allowed to conclude that this eccehomo was almost certainly the one that was going to be auctioned badly at Ansorena in April in Madrid, for a ridiculous starting price (1,500 euros) compared to its market value, which can ranging from 20 million in the Spanish sphere to 130 million internationally. This work has remained in the Pérez de Castro family since 1823.
When the politician, an academic since 1800 and an influential person at the time, requests the exchange, the academy orders an investigation on the four paintings in which he has been interested and that he intends to exchange for a Saint John the Baptist by Alonso Cano. The eccehomo of the Italian master ranks fourth. “Or for a Christ collecting his garments of the same Alonso Cano ”, reads the document. “Or by the Penitent Magdalene of Murillo or for the painting that represents Lot with his daughters, by Benvenuto Lusi, which is not in the catalog and is in the room with reserved paintings or for the Ecce-Home with two saiones by Carabaggio ”. The Lot and his daughters, which is actually by Francesco Furini, can be seen in the Prado, while the other two works remain in the Academia de San Fernando.
The Academy of Fine Arts gave the Pérez de Castro family a ‘caravaggio’ in 1823
The list of the original inheritance of Pérez de Castro cited the ‘caravaggio’
Why then did they give him the caravaggio, being the last in your preferences? Because, after the internal investigation, they believe that no one can claim it. “The Ecce-Homo I don’t know where it came from”, can be read in the report, “because in the inventory of paintings collected in the house of Don Manuel Godoy there is no picture of the size of the one in caravaggio, so it seems to me that it could be changed ”. “It seemed to us that the only one that the academy could give him for this exchange is an Ecce Homo who thinks he is from Carabaggio [así en el original]”, Says the document on another page. “Based on the documents in the archive, it turns out to be the property of the academy and it is not in it as a repository, whether it belongs to the Royal Household, or to some corporation or individual, as it may be with the paintings that came from France, in which way it seems to us that it looks good. the academy compensated ”.
One of the many paradoxes of this story is that, despite this declaration of the swap document, the researchers from the Real Academia de San Fernando believe that it is very possible that it did come from the Godoy collection, although they still cannot prove it documentary. The Pérez de Castro family, for their part, assured through a spokesperson that they were unaware of all these documents and inventories and maintained that they did not know the origin or authorship of the painting when they decided to put it up for auction. Evaristo Pérez de Castro was an important collector in his time, as evidenced by the inventory of the collection that he left to his heirs and collected in the Madrid Protocol Archive. He had 89 paintings valued at 204,960 reais at the time. The caravaggio it was valued at 16,000 reais.
“The academy functioned as a depository institution for an enormous heritage that had left its headquarters due to various circumstances or that came from conflicts,” explains Itziar Arana, coordinator of the Center for R + D + I Studies at the Academia de San Fernando. This researcher had published this document in an article in 2013 and thanks to this work, the institution learned when the name of the Pérez de Castro family came out as possible owners of the caravaggio, which was the work that had been exhibited in its rooms at least between 1817 and 1823. “Pictures of many origins are deposited in the academy, among them those that have been selected by the French troops to create a museum and there are many claims, for example, from convents in Madrid. In fact, many pictures are returned. Not everything has a very clear origin. It is a turbulent period, ”continues Arana.
Not only do the pictures raped by the French and left behind in their retreat pass through the academy, but it was the main recipient of the call. kidnapping of Manuel Godoy’s assets (1767-1851), when in 1808, after the Aranjuez mutiny, Fernando VII ordered the confiscation of all his possessions, including what is perhaps the best art collection that has been assembled in Spain. “In just 16 years, from 1792 to 1808, Godoy collected nearly 1,100 paintings, unscrupulously using his political power and social position to obtain masterpieces that were in the hands of the Spanish aristocracy and the Church,” explains Isadora Rose -from Viejo, the greatest expert in this collection.
Of those 1,100 works, currently only the fate of 300 is known, many of which are in the best museums in the world. Among them are The Venus of the mirror, by Velázquez, and School of love, by Correggio (both in the National Gallery), Apollo and Marsyas, de Ribera (Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Bruselas), Santo Tomás de Villanueva child distributing alms, de Murillo (Cincinnati Art Museum), Saint Peter with Alexander VI and Jacopo Pesaro, the Tiziano (Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Amberes). The dressed up maja, The naked maja Y The Countess of Chinchón, by Goya, and the Crucified Christ, by Velázquez, are in the Prado.
The paradox is that, despite the fact that in 1823 the internal report makes it clear that the caravaggio not from Godoy, in the 1824 catalog, available online, the opposite is held. This document already contains the alonso cano permuted to Pérez de Castro, although now attributed to Pedro Atanasio Bocanegra with the following annotation: “His Excellency Mr. Evaristo Pérez de Castro gave this painting to the Academy in exchange for another of Carabaggio which represented an Ecce-Homo, belonging to those who were swallowed (sic) by the kidnapping of Godoy, whose delivery was made by order of the Academy on February 13, 1823 ”. The pieces that belonged to the royal collections or to Alba’s house were marked with a seal. The caravaggio It is re-structured, as experts such as Maria Cristina Terzaghi have explained to this newspaper. This is a problem because it can conceal a stamp or signature bearing the former owner. Only a good restoration will reveal this secret.
The academy researchers try to find the documentary thread in that labyrinth. “Our main hypothesis is that it came from the Godoy collection,” explains Alfredo Pérez de Armiñán, deputy director of the institution. “But we have to investigate more. How he got to the academy is a key point. There is still a stage to be tested and we still do not have the documents ”. Godoy not only kept in his house the paintings that he had bought or that were being given to him, as well as the collection of his wife, the Countess of Chinchón, but he had accumulated other works of more doubtful origin.
Isadora Rose-de Viejo, on the other hand, explains that this eccehomo is not in the inventory in 1816 of the Godoy collection. “The 1823 document is the correct one and that the painting in question does not come from the old collection of Manuel Godoy”, points out this historian, author of the doctoral thesis. Manuel Godoy. Patron of the arts and collector and that all experts consider as the main reference in this field. Nor can Godoy’s descendants clear up the mystery. “My family litigated for the assets of Godoy almost 50 more years,” says Luis Ruspoli Sanchiz, current holder of the Duchy of Chueca and a descendant of Godoy, who considers “not disposable” that it comes from the collection. “In other words, the academy did not have them all with it because throughout the reign of Isabel II the courts were giving reason to Godoy about the illegality of the kidnapping of his assets, so the owners of the assets did not consolidate the property of the same until the First Republic. From that moment on and throughout the 20th century, Godoy’s assets have emerged in the most unlikely places. And what we have left. With some frequency they offer me goods that have belonged to Godoy without great artistic value perhaps, but some of them truly surprising ”.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.