Caravaggio’s “Ecce Homo” at the Prado Museum: a rediscovered work | News today

Caravaggio’s “Ecce Homo” at the Prado Museum: a rediscovered work | News today
Caravaggio’s “Ecce Homo” at the Prado Museum: a rediscovered work | News today

Italian master Caravaggio’s painting titled ‘Ecce Homo’ is displayed at the Prado Museum in Madrid, on May 27, 2024.

Photo: AFP – PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU

It is a painting of “extraordinary value”, “lost” for years, and which represented “one of the greatest discoveries in the history of art” when it was certified as the work of the Italian master.

This is how the Prado Museum describes the 400-year-old work, which will keep it on display from this Tuesday until October, thanks to the “generosity of its new owner”, whom it did not identify, and who agreed to give it up on a “temporary loan”.

Painted between 1605 and 1609, “Ecce Homo” (“Behold the man” in Latin) represents Christ with tied hands and a crown of thorns on his head, when he was presented by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate to the people with those words.

It is just one of sixty paintings in the world attributed to the great Italian artist specialized in chiaroscuro (1571-1610).

“Documentary evidence”

According to experts, this small-sized oil on canvas was part of the private collection of King Philip IV of Spain, before being exhibited in the apartments of his son Charles II.

Bequeathed to the Royal Academy of San Fernando, in Madrid, it was recovered in 1823 by the Spanish diplomat Evaristo Pérez de Castro Méndez, who exchanged it for another work. From then on, it belonged to his family.

In 2021, a Madrid auction house valued it at 1,500 euros ($1,630) thinking that the author was a member of the school of José de Ribera, a Spanish painter from the first half of the 17th century known for his religious compositions.

Alerted by experts, the Prado Museum raised the alarm due to the “sufficient documentary and stylistic evidence” that made it suspicious that it was by Caravaggio.

Preventively, the Spanish Ministry of Culture blocked the auction, a measure taken at the last minute that rescued the painting from oblivion, later certified by specialists as the work of the Italian master.

Fully restored

Among the experts was Maria Cristina Terzaghi, professor of Art History at the University of Rome III, who in 2021 told how what she called “the Caravaggio operation” developed.

“I saw the painting in an image that some antique dealer friends had sent me on Whatsapp, and they had understood immediately that it could be a very important work,” Terzaghi said.

Hours later, already in Madrid, she was able to see it in person and was impressed by the elements on the canvas typical of Caravaggio, such as the brightness of the torso, “the three-dimensionality” of the figures on an “almost cinematic” cast, their size…

“I had no further doubt (…) For me it was evident that it was a work by Caravaggio,” he stated.

Before arriving at the Prado, which will display it in a “special individual installation,” the painting was completely restored, under the direction of specialist Andrea Cipriani.

According to Spanish media, the painting was purchased for 36 million euros (39 million dollars) by its new owner, a British citizen residing in Spain, and could remain on display to the public after its passage through the Prado.

“The painting is not going to end up in the buyer’s home,” because he wants it “to be in public collections, for now, in the form of a loan,” explained Jorge Coll, head of the gallery in charge of its sale.

Good news for lovers of Caravaggio, who also had a tumultuous life and was a forgotten character for centuries before being recognized as a genius again in the 1950s.

 
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