The Madrid’s community has published today in its Official Gazette the resolution of April 9, 2021, of the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage of the Community of Madrid, by which The file to declare an Asset of Cultural Interest of the supposed Caravaggio is opened, which was going to be auctioned at the Ansorena room in Madrid the day before, on April 8, as a work of the José de Ribera Circle (17th century), under the title ‘The coronation of thorns’, and that the experts have been attributed as a lost ‘Ecce Homo’ by Caravaggio. At the request of the General Directorate of Fine Arts of the Ministry of Culture, in accordance with a Ministerial Order of April 7, 2021, the work was declared unbearable, as a precautionary measure. According to the technical reports issued by the Ministry of Culture and the Prado Museum, the painting deserved to be declared an Asset of Cultural Interest for its historical and artistic interest, as well as its possible attribution to Caravaggio.
It is ordered that this resolution be notified to the interested parties, for the appropriate purposes, and that a report to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, which, in accordance with article 7.3 of Law 3/2013, of June 8, if it is not issued in the month following your request, it will be understood as favorable to the declaration. What’s more, a period of public information opens for a period of one month, starting today, during which an audience will be given to those interested, the Madrid City Council and the Regional Council for Historical Heritage; All this, so that as many people as interested can examine the file, by appointment, at the offices of the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage and present the allegations they deem appropriate.
It is ordered to notify the resolution to the General Register of Assets of Cultural Interest of the Ministry of Culture and Sports and to the Register of Assets of Cultural Interest of the Community of Madrid, for its preventive annotation for appropriate purposes.
Assessment and state of conservation
In an annex, the values of the table are described and justified, whose state of conservation they say is ‘regular’. The supposed Caravaggio it is described like this: «In the work that is the object of the declaration, a suffering Jesus Christ is represented, with a cane in his hands, which remain tied; half naked, with the crown of thorns and exposed to the gaze of the crowd, which stands outside the painting. Pilate shows it to the people while the character behind him (probably a soldier, although in the image and due to the dirt in the work its characteristics are not well appreciated) is going to place a purple cloak on his shoulders. This image seems to correspond iconographically, more than to the crowning with thorns, to the baroque expression of “Ecce Homo”, Ostentatio Christi or presentation of Christ to the people by Pilate narrated in the Gospel according to Saint John, a paradigmatic iconographic theme in the expression of the values of the Counter-Reformation, the historical context in which it is inserted. Thus, it has the symbolic elements of this scene of the Passion of Christ represented in the Gospels and later transferred to religious iconography: the crown of thorns, the purple cloak, the cane as a scepter. The feeling of gravity and religious austerity of Jesus Christ contrasts with the dramatic expressions of the other two characters, among which the figure of Pontius Pilate stands out, in the foreground.
According to him technical report issued by the Prado Museum, «The origin of this painting could be related to the collecting of the viceroys of Naples in the seventeenth century. Thus, there are well-founded formal and documentary reasons to consider that it is probably the original work of Michelangelo Merisi di Caravaggio (1571-1610), which was in the seventeenth century in the collection of the secretary of the court of Naples Don Juan de Lezcano, which passed successively to that of the Viceroy Count of Castrillo, with which he would have arrived in Madrid. In the inventory of the Lezcano collection he was remembered as “an ecçe homo with Pilate who shows him to the people, and an executioner who wears his purple dress from behind” and in the Castrillo collection, as “a Heccehomo de zinco spans with an evangelical frame with a soldier and Pilatos who teaches the people is an original by Micael Angel Caravacho (according to publications by Antonio Vannugli in 2009 and Belén Bartolomé in 1994) ». According to Vannugli’s work, “the painting cited in the sources would not correspond to the ‘Ecce Homo’ attributed to Caravaggio that is currently kept in the Palazzo Bianco museum in Genoa with inventory number PB 1638, initially identified with the work cited in the aforementioned texts, on which recent historiography presents a controversy both for its authorship and for its origin ».
The report also warns’clear parallels of chronology and pictorial language between the painting object of declaration and the stylistic execution of works certified as original by Caravaggio. In this way, some somewhat clarifying formal analogies are found despite the relative deterioration of painting. Such analogies can be seen, for example, between the figure of the protagonist Christ in Ecce Homo and David in the Galleria Borghese in Rome. Despite the age difference of the characters, the anatomical construction of the torso and neck, the slight inclination of the head, the low directionality of the gaze and the shadows on the left half of the face reveal a genesis due to the same author. The figure of Pilate in the foreground also presents important parallels with other works by the author in terms of the models used and the way of describing his anatomy, as occurs in the confrontation with the friar of the Madonna del Rosario of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna ».
The confirmation of its authorship, it is noted, «will require specialized technical studies for which the ownership of the work must provide access to researchers in accordance with current legal regulations. If this is confirmed, obviously the work would add to the values of artistic and technical quality that it already presents, the authorship on the part of an exceptional Italian painter, who revolutionized painting in a realistic sense and who had a fundamental influence on many artists of the century. XVII. However, and in the event that the object of declaration was not ultimately the work of Caravaggio, there is agreement among specialists in the field that the high-quality painting, would respond with security to one of his most immediate followers. In this respect, there is no doubt that painting constitutes a magnificent testimony of the first Italian naturalism, a school that exerted a great influence on all European art. The stylistic technique, the prominence of the close-up of the characters, the realism of human models, the contrast of light and the compositional sobriety make the work a highly interesting exponent of seventeenth-century Italian naturalist painting ».
Regarding the state of conservation of the painting and the criteria by which future interventions should be governed, the following is stated: «While direct visual inspection of the work was not possible, in the photographic images available, it is appreciated suciety and a relative deterioration. Future interventions should be aimed at correcting these aspects and recovering the original values of the work. The criteria to be applied in future interventions must be those of minimal intervention, differentiation and reversibility, and must be governed in any case by the provisions of article 20 of Law 3/2013, of June 18, on Historical Heritage of the Community of Madrid ».
Regarding the values of the work that justify declaring it BIC, it is stated that “presents historical-artistic values of singular importance. According to the technical reports available today, it constitutes a sample of excellence and pictorial mastery of the first Italian naturalism, which exerted a great influence on the Madrid pictorial school of the seventeenth century. Aspects like the psychological portrait of the characters, the realism of the faces, the light force that focuses on the body of Jesus Christ, the close-up game The three characters and the communication established with the viewer make the painting a work of great artistic interest. Likewise, the work constitutes a painting of exceptional value within the historical heritage of the Community of Madrid, by representing a testimony of a current, Italian naturalism, scarcely represented in the collections located in the region. According to the specialists who have analyzed the work, the “Caravaggist” features of the work in its iconography and executive language and its very high quality prove the special relevance of this painting within the artistic heritage of the Community of Madrid. Considering the exposed values, it can be concluded that the painting brings together values of historical and artistic interest that are relevant for its declaration as an Asset of Cultural Interest ».