A Newly Discovered Caravaggio
The original version of Caravaggio’s Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy has been discovered in a private European collection and authenticated by the art historian Mina Gregori, according to The Telegraph. Given the scarcity of known works by the controversial and innovative 17th-century Italian artist, this will generate excitement and, most likely, debate.
According to the article:
Gregori, who is considered the world’s foremost expert on the artist, would not reveal the country where the painting is located, saying the owners do not want publicity, but confirmed that when she first saw the 100 by 90cm oil on canvas in their private home, she had no doubt.
“They laid it down on the floor, I got down on my knees, and when I saw her hands, I said, ‘yes, that’s it. It’s her. Finally.'”
There are at least eight exemplary copies circulating worldwide, showing Magdalene reclining against a dark background, her hands clenched, head rolled back, eyes full of tears.
Gregori said her first impression was confirmed when she closely studied the colours and light on her hands and face, as well as the folds of the clothing. But there were other important clues: a wax Vatican customs stamp on the canvas that was only used through the 17th century and a handwritten note on the back, noting that the “reclined Magdalene of Caravaggio was in Chiaia” to be delivered to Cardinale Borghese.
The story and first photos of the discovery were published Friday in the Italian daily La Repubblica.
The find adds intrigue to a centuries-old art history mystery. The painting was done in the months following Caravaggio’s flight from Rome after the death of his adversary in 1606, while he was in hiding on the estates of his protectors, the powerful Colonna noble family.
In 1994, another clue was discovered in a secret Vatican archive: a letter from the Bishop of Caserta and a Vatican Nunzio to the Kingdom of Naples addressed to Cardinale Scipione Borghese informing him of Caravaggio’s death and the fact that the boat he was travelling on carried three paintings, including the San Giovanni and the Magdalene.
The Colonna family, who lived in the Chiaia quarter mentioned on the note on the back of the painting, is believed to have held the works of art. The San Giovanni is thought to have reached Cardinale Borghese – historians believe the original is the one displayed in Rome’s Galleria Borghese.
Magdalene probably spent several years in Naples, where Flemish painter Louis Finson made his signed, dated copy, now on display at a museum in Marseille. Many copies were made from it. The painting is then thought to have travelled to Rome, and somehow mysteriously ended up in a private family collection.