The Community of Madrid plans to publish tomorrow in its official bulletin the declaration as an Asset of Cultural Interest (BIC) of the painting removed from an auction on suspicion that it was a work signed by Caravaggio. The canvas, an ‘ecce homo’ attributed to the workshop of José de Ribera (17th century) or his circle but which experts believe is that of the Italian master of chiaroscuro (1571-1610), was to be sold at a bid in Madrid, which started at 1,500 euros, but for which a firm of antique dealers in the international market it had already offered 23 million euros.
The Ministry of Culture managed to paralyze the sale after experts from the Prado Museum warned that it could be an oil painting by Caravaggio and not the surroundings of Ribera, to which the Ansorena auction house he had attributed authorship.
With BIC’s statement, the painting already has “provisional and precautionary” protection waiting for the whole procedure to finish before making it official. This process goes through the publication of the order in the Official Gazette of the Community of Madrid (BOCM), scheduled for tomorrow. From that moment on, a public information period will begin where the Madrid City Council, the Regional Council for Historical Heritage and the interested parties will be summoned to present allegations if they consider it so. A report will also be requested from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, which has to be ready in a month.
The ‘discovery’ alarmed the sector and experts, collectors and antique dealers around the world began to exchange messages
For now, with the provisional statement from BIC, the owners of the work (apparently two septuagenarian sisters from the elegant Salamanca district) are obliged to preserve it «properly», and must request authorization from the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage for any intervention they wish to carry out on the valuable painting.
The regional government has already advanced that it will request the Prado Museum that qualified technicians from the national gallery travel to the owners’ homes to a first face-to-face study of the work, without prejudice to the fact that it is later transferred to the Prado facilities, where it is much better their custody guaranteed and a much more exhaustive analysis can be done.
In case the owners want to sell the canvas, the Administration, thanks to the declaration of BIC, will have the right of first refusal within two months, this is the preferred acquisition of the painting if its owners decide to put it up for sale. Even if the authorship of Caravaggio has not been confirmed, the canvas cannot be bought by any collector until the central and regional governments decline to do so. The deadline to complete the BIC procedure is nine months from its declaration in the BOCM.
The painting, an ‘ecce homo’ presented under the title ‘The coronation of espionas’ (an oil on canvas measuring 111 x 86 centimeters) has generated a unusual interest among experts, collectors and antique dealers from all over the world, who have been making calls and messages for days. Not in vain, another Caravaggio canvas painted in 1607 and found in an attic in Toulouse, it was sold two years ago for a sum that it ranged between 100 and 150 million euros. A fortune compared to the 1,500 euros with which the auction was going to start.
One of these experts is the Italian teacher Maria Cristina Terzaghi, that he took a plane in Rome and appeared in Madrid to examine the work at the request of the Prado Museum. «I saw the painting in an image that some antiquarian friends had sent me by WhatsApp, and they had understood at the time that it could be a very important work. They wanted to know what I thought ”, this professor from the University of Rome told Afp.
At first he thought of a Battistello, one of Caravaggio’s disciples, but later it was said that this ‘ecce homo’ was a work of the Italian master. However, and out of prudence, «I couldn’t say it was from Caravaggio without seeing it. aim. And when she landed in Madrid she was able to observe the painting in person at the Ansorena house, she had no doubts. “It was clear to me that it was a work by Caravaggio”, adds the specialist, comforted that her hypothesis had an echo in the Prado, and happy that Spain had declared the work inexportable. “That was, for me, the most important result.”