SPAIN has granted protected status to a small oil painting that was on the verge of being sold for a mere €1,500 before an expert stepped in with the suspicion that it could be a long-lost masterpiece by Caravaggio.
Earlier this year the Culture Ministry imposed a last minute export ban on the artwork after it was offered for sale by the Madrid auction house Ansorena.
The painting identified as “The Crown of Thorns” had a reserve price of just €1,500 but the sale was pulled after experts from the Prado lobbied the government to place an emergency export ban while they studied it.
It was attributed to an unnamed artist within the studio of 17th century Spanish painter Jose de Ribera, but there was hope it could turn out to be an original Caravaggio and therefore worth upwards of €50 million.
Now, six months after Spain’s culture ministry imposed a precautionary export ban on the painting, the regional government of Madrid formally declared the work a bien de interés cultural, or item of cultural interest.
It described the painting as “an example of the excellence and pictorial mastery of the Italian naturalism” that had a great influence on the Madrid school of painting in the 17th century.
“The information that has appeared over the past few months, together with the studies undertaken by experts, reinforces the theory that it is the work of Caravaggio,” the statement said.
The artwork had reportedly been hanging on the wall of a Madrid collector who had acquired it in the 70s before being put up for sale by his heirs.
But according to research by the Prado, there’s a possibility that the painting could be one of two works by Caravaggio brought to Spain between 1657 and 1659 by the Count of Castrillo, a Spanish nobleman who was viceroy of Naples when southern Italy was part of the Spanish Empire.
Its discovery had caused excitement across the art world and heated debate over whether it could really be a lost work of the Italian master.
Vittorio Sgarbi, a prominent art critic and museum curator in Italy, is convinced it is indeed a Caravaggio.
“The price could be €100-150 million if it was sold to a private buyer and €40-50 million if it was sold to the Prado,” he told Corriere della Sera newspaper at the time.
While Nicola Spinosa, an authority on Neapolitan art of the 17th century, said: “I don’t think it’s a Caravaggio. I believe the painting is a work of high quality by a follower of Caravaggio’s style.”
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