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Prado Museum Will Showcase a Lost Caravaggio that Nearly Sold for Under $2,000

This combination of photos provided by the Prado Museum on Monday May 6, 2024 shows the restoration work on Caravaggio’s “Ecce Homo”. Spain’s Prado Museum has confirmed that a painting that was due to be auctioned in Madrid in 2021 is in fact a work by Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio that was considered lost. (Prado Museum, via AP)

A rare Caravaggio painting that was once mistakenly valued at an astonishingly low $1,800 will be on exhibit at Madrid’s Prado Museum.

The painting Ecce Homo, which shows Christ wearing a crown of thorns, caused quite a stir in April 2021 when the Spanish auction house Ansorena announced that it would be put up for auction for €1,500, or roughly $1,800 at the time. The piece had been credited to the “circle of [the 17th-century Spanish artist] José de Ribera” by the auction house.

Nevertheless, the item was never included in the sale. According to Gareth Harris of the Art Newspaper, experts at the Prado Museum started to weigh in, saying there was “sufficient stylistic and documentary evidence” the painting could actually be by Caravaggio. The painting was granted protected heritage status by the Comunidad de Madrid regional government, and the Spanish government imposed an export ban to prevent the painting from leaving the nation. Former Christie’s specialist Anthony Crichton-Stuart said at the time to Scott Reyburn of the New York Times that he thought the painting might be worth “at least €50 million.”

Dark realism, a strong sense of emotion on the figures’ faces, and a dramatic contrast of light and shadow are all characteristics of the old master’s style that are on display in the Ecce Homo painting.

The New York Times was told by London-based art dealer Marco Voena, “When I saw it, it went ‘boom.'” “It is entirely Caravaggio. It is amazing. It is quite powerful.”

Three years later, the Prado is demonstrating that the Italian Baroque master’s Ecce Homo is an original work.

According to a statement from the Prado, “Since its reappearance at an auction three years ago, Ecce Homo has represented one of the greatest discoveries in the history of art.” “Ecce Homo is a masterpiece by the Italian artist,” says one of the most knowledgeable authorities on Caravaggio and Baroque painting, “and they all share the same passionate certainty.”

Of the approximately 60 known Caravaggio paintings in existence, this one is regarded by the museum as “one of the most valuable old master artworks in the world.” Experts at Prado believe the painting was painted by an Italian between 1605 and 1609, and it was a part of King Philip IV of Spain’s royal collection.

Miguel Falomir, the director of the Prado, tells Sam Jones of the Guardian that “it had been in a private family collection in Madrid since the 19th century and it had left the royal collection during the Napoleonic invasion.” “The buyer expressed interest in showcasing this extremely significant piece at the Prado after the family recently decided to sell the picture to a private buyer.”

Caravaggio’s Ecce Homo has undergone extensive restoration by Prado specialists. The recently uncovered painting will open for an exclusive one-piece exhibition at the museum on May 28 and run through October 20, 2024.

Falomir tells the Guardian, “It is an enormous opportunity and one we are thrilled about.” “We are also happy that this magnificent piece of art will remain in Spain and contribute to its culture.”

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