Eric Turquin, art dealer: “Look at the execution of the lips, the way the chin and eyelids are painted… It belongs to Caravaggio. How could it be by anyone else?”
Keith Christiansen, MOMA-NY: [Contains details too crude to be by Caravaggio, including the] “concentric wrinkles of the old servant’s face.”
Gianni Papi, University of Florence: [The head of Holofernes is] “too loaded, with those animal teeth” [to be by Caravaggio].
James Bradburne, Pinacoteca de Brera, Milan: “The touch of the brush screamed out Caravaggio,” [referring to the delicacy with which Judith’s left cuff is painted].
(Quotations are from Scott Reyburn, “Is That a Real Caravaggio? It’s All in the Detail,” NYTimes, 2-28-19)
I have limited interest in fights over attribution of art works to old masters. However, the tumescent rhetoric swirling around the disturbing painting in question attracted notice. The discussion doesn’t live up to my expectations in the matter of scholarly debate. It rings shrill and opportunistic. Consider that Marc Labarbe, an auctioneer, found the “spectacularly well-preserved 17th-century canvas” in an attic in 2014. Mr. Labarbe will auction the painting “in collaboration with” Mr. Turquin, the art dealer quoted above saying, “How could it be by anyone else?” They hope it will sell for between $115 and $170 million. The auctioneer and art dealer (and perhaps someone they represent) have money
riding on the attribution of this pristine canvas to Michelangelo Merisi (1571-1610), the brawling murderer known as Caravaggio, who also painted well. And money screams.
(c) 2019 JMN.