A duo of Italian art historians has sent a lightning bolt through the art world with news of an astonishing find. What the two men have discovered hidden in a castle in Milan is a treasure trove of art that is unprecedented in every single way. Up to 100 sketches and paintings have been “unearthed” and they are thought to belong to one of the greatest baroque artists of all time.
That esteemed fellow would of course be Michelangelo Caravaggio. It is thought the artwork stems back to his youth at the Lombardy studio between 1584 and 1588, when he was a student of Simone Peterzano (who himself was a pupil of Titian).
Speaking to Ansa, an Italian news agency, Maurizio Bernardelli Curuz Guerrieri, artistic director for the Brescia Museum Foundation and one of the historians who unearthed the works, commented: “We always felt it was impossible that Caravaggio left no record, no studies in the workshop of a painter as famous as his mentor.”
If the sketches and paintings are acknowledged to belong to the master of drama, realism, high emotion and light, they could be worth €700 million (approximately £558.6 million), the art historians noted. As they were discovered in Peterzano’s studio, they would technically belong to the city of Milan.
Although Mr Guerrieri and Adriana Conconi Fedrigolli have been busy digging away at the castle and analysing the findings in a thorough and meticulous manner, no one, not even those who profess to know anything and everything in the art world, was aware such significant work was taking place.
Needless to say, when the announcement was made, though the general mood is one of excitement, it has been met with caution. Objective study will now need to be made, which will begin with a detailed reading of Mr Guerrieri and Ms Fedrigolli’s two-volume 600-page e-book, which has been kindly published in four languages.
Those on the sceptical side include members of the council. Elena Conenna, Milan’s culture spokeswoman, pointed out that the city would have to carry out its own checks before it could give its blessing to the validity of these works.
Meanwhile, the prominent art historian and author Francesca Cappelletti, who as a student along with Laura Testa, helped to verify The Taking of Christ as a genuine Caravaggio, remained dubious: “I will wait to consult the complete research, but the drawings I’ve seen so far do not seem to me attributable to Caravaggio.”
More vocal was Claudio Strinati, a well-known authority on sixteenth century art, who simply referred to the claims as being “completely absurd”.
Such criticism and doubt was always going to follow any such announcement. With Caravaggio, especially, the matter is extremely sensitive. Little is known of his life during this period, given his proclivity for violence, chaos and self-destruction. He died when he was 38.
Regardless, the historians remain confident that their discovery will stand the test of time and be vindicated by their peers. If anything, they have their reputations on the line. The DNA of the work, they argue, is undisputedly Caravaggio’s.
“Every artist has a matrix style, unique to them that is distinguishable through the postures and body types in their sketches,” Mr Guerrieri said. “They memorise them as students, learning by force of repetition, and carry them into maturity for their later works.”