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Home Culture Caravaggio’s lost ‘Ecce Homo’ is now in the Prado Museum | Culture

Caravaggio’s lost ‘Ecce Homo’ is now in the Prado Museum | Culture

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At 9:15 a.m. this Monday, the line of journalists and ancient art experts at the door of the Prado Museum competed with that of tourists and other visitors. After three years of mystery, the Behold the man by Caravaggio, one of the lost paintings of the Baroque genius, can be seen in the art gallery from May 28 to October 13. That frameless piece, yellowed by the passage of time and layers of varnish that appeared in a Madrid auction room in 2021 and was going to sell for 1,500 euros, is now a restored work, with a new historic ebony frame, that hangs alone in a room in the Prado. A small space, repainted in dark tones, with only three points of light that illuminate the work, its legend and a huge title so that no viewer doubts that they are looking at a masterpiece for centuries surrounded by mystery: Ecce Homo, El Caravaggio perdido.

In front of the painting, trying to manage the journalists’ requests, Maria Cristina Terzaghi, one of the world’s leading experts on Caravaggio, finds it difficult to hide her emotion, joy and satisfaction. She was one of the first to see the painting at the Ansorena auction house, also one of the quickest to point out that it was a piece by the Baroque painter. In fact, her initial conviction did not hesitate to put it in writing in July 2021 when she published a scientific report in which he concluded that it was Caravaggio. “I am very happy,” she says without losing sight of the painting, “the restoration has turned out very well and the operation has been a success: it is in private hands, but we can all see the Behold the man”. As the expert explains, the piece will be up until October 13 in an exclusive room at the Prado. Its new owner, an English contemporary art collector who acquired the work in August 2023 for around 30 million euros, has reached an agreement with the museum to display the fabric temporarily on loan. That is to say, the Prado has not had to shell out a euro. The objective is that, once this first deadline that ends in October has been met, the piece will be integrated into the museum’s discourse and hang in the space dedicated to the painter and his contemporaries, although it is not yet defined how long it will remain in this institution. .

At this time, the new caravaggio It is a few meters from an old acquaintance of the Prado, David conquering Goliath, the only painting by the baroque artist in the museum. “It has a complementary value because it represents the first maturity of Caravaggio’s painting, still with a very neat, precise and quite careful technique,” ​​says David García Cueto, head of the Department of Italian and French Painting until 1800, who was also not taken away the smile on Monday morning. Since 1981, there has not been such a consensus in academia. There is unanimity regarding the attribution of the work almost from the beginning, when it appeared in 2021.

“He Behold the man It allows us to see its technical evolution towards a much more agile final style that does not neglect the brushstrokes that define the details,” continues García Cueto. “In this final stage of the painter, a great pictorial intelligence is perceived that has not only to do with his artistic maturation, but also with his own life journey: Caravaggio has to leave Rome for fear of being captured and facing a judicial process that could lead to a death sentence. He passes through Naples, through the island of Malta, through Sicily and Naples again.” This situation, the expert explains, leads him to “a vital hopelessness, even to a certain anguish that causes a metamorphosis of his art” that is perceived in the Behold the man, the only privately owned painting currently on display at the Prado. Even so, there is no type of written reference to the ownership of the painting, nor is it even indicated that it belongs to a private collection or to an individual. This part of the mystery survives.

Caravaggio’s ‘Ecce Homo’, exhibited in the Prado.Eduardo Nave

García Cueto also focuses on the characters with whom Caravaggio created this composition. “Already in The vocation of Saint Matthew which is in the church of Saint Louis of the French in Rome, attacks Pontius Pilate according to the fashion of his own time. He does not make a historicist evocation of how people would supposedly be dressed in the time of Jesus, but rather he dresses him in clothing typical of the 17th century itself that we can recognize in the representation of the character in this painting based on a model that had previously appeared in the Virgin of the Rosary, a painting preserved today in the Vienna Museum.”

The other reference that links this piece with previous works by Caravaggio is in the figure of Jesus, in the center of the painting. “He has a facial definition very similar to that of the character who also embodies Jesus in the painting of the flagellation in the Capo di Monte Museum in Naples, and is quite recurrent in the artist’s most youthful production with his mouth half open, the executioner or executioner who is placing Christ on his shoulders,” García Cueto continues. Now, for the first time, the two paintings that arrived in the same boat to Spain from Naples will be exhibited at the same time in Madrid: this Behold the many Salome with the head of the Baptistin the Gallery of the Royal Collections.

He Behold the man It has been restored by a team led by the Italian expert Andrea Cipriani who has been fixing the damage to the piece. Under his command, specialists such as Claudio Falcucci and Carlo Giantomassi, another relevant restorer who participated in the work on Michelangelo’s frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Maria Cristina Terzaghi, one of the world’s leading experts on Caravaggio who already in July 2021, was present at the press conference this Monday, who only four months after the painting appeared published a scientific report in which she concluded that It was Caravaggio; Keith Christiansen (curator of the Metropolitan Museum of New York), Gianni Papi (art historian) and Giuseppe Porzio (art historian at the University of Art) sign a book in which the Behold the man to the genius of the Baroque. The catalog can now be purchased and accompanies the painting in the exclusive room of the Prado. The authors, although they are firm in their authorship, have not been able to specify the date of completion of the work, they place it between 1607 and 1610.

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