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Art restorer claims Caravaggio find

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Rorie LaFay
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« on: July 14, 2007, 06:13:17 am »

Art restorer claims Caravaggio find
By ALESSANDRA RIZZO, Associated Press Writer
Fri Jul 13, 7:47 PM ET


This undated image released by Studio Art Center International and made available Friday July, 13, 2007 shows a copy of the Caravaggio masterpiece 'St. Jerome Writing'. An Italian art restorer, Roberta Lapucci, identified the copy as the authentic work of the Baroque master, who she claims started the composition and then left it unfinished. But the announcement of Lapucci, who studied the painting for six months aided by new techniques, has left some Caravaggio experts skeptical, and rekindled a debate in the art world on whether or not Caravaggio sometimes painted the same thing twice. (AP Photo/Studio Art Center International, ho)

ROME - An Italian art restorer said she has identified a painting long thought to be a copy of a Caravaggio masterpiece, "St. Jerome Writing," as an authentic work of the Baroque master.

But the announcement this week by Roberta Lapucci who studied the painting for six months aided by new techniques has left some Caravaggio experts skeptical. It's also rekindled a debate in the art world about whether Caravaggio sometimes painted the same work twice.

Lapucci claims that underneath the layers of subsequent additions and restorations lies the hand of the master himself, who had started the composition but left it unfinished. She believes the painting was a preparatory sketch for the final version of "St. Jerome Writing" that currently adorns the Oratory of St. John's Co-Cathedral in the Maltese capital of Valletta.

"He did a great part of the composition: The saint is all his, as are the table top and the objects," Lapucci told The Associated Press. "Then the composition was finished off by someone else, and then there are subsequent restorations" in the 18th and 19th centuries.

One of the reasons why Caravaggio might have left this work unfinished is that he moved on to paint the final version, Lapucci said.

But Caravaggio experts said the work Lapucci examined was not of the same quality of a Caravaggio original.

"It does not have his vigor, it does not have his brush work," Keith Sciberras, art history professor at the University of Malta and a Caravaggio expert. "It does not have the spirit of Caravaggio in it."

Maurizio Marini, a leading Caravaggio scholar in Italy, pointed out among other things that the face of the saint was too coarse to have been painted by the master.

"Everything can be said of Caravaggio, but not that the quality of his work was scarce," said Marini, who in another recent case has been on the side of upgrading a painting to the status of Caravaggio original.

The painting that Lapucci examined in Florence belongs to a private collector in Malta. The collector had sent it to her lab to have it cleaned up for an exhibit featuring the two versions side-by-side as part of events marking the 400th anniversary of Caravaggio's visit to the tiny Mediterranean island nation in 1607-1608.

Both versions show the saint, known for translating the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, seated on a bed, a red drape around his waist and legs. On a table is a volume in which the saint writes, and a stone, a crucifix and a skull.

The sizes are also similar, with the one examined by Lapucci just a few inches smaller.

The new technique allowed the researchers to identify and examine successive strata of paint because each layer projects a certain kind of fluorescence. It works backward, from isolating the most recent layers of paint to the oldest ones, said Anna Pelagotti, an engineer who applied the technique and works for the private Tuscan-based institute that copyrighted it, Art-Test.

"I had already seen that something more powerful lay beneath the image I had received," Lapucci said, referring to X-rays the owner had sent. "With the new technique I understood it was something spectacular."

The researchers then performed the more traditional infrared analyses, which, completed in May, corroborated the claim, Lapucci said. She presented her findings during an Italian TV science show Thursday night, and said she plans to publish her findings later this year.

Sciberras, the Maltese expert, said that however sophisticated the technique, science could never be conclusive when it came to attribution a job better left to the eye of art historians.

He also dismissed the idea that Caravaggio painted replicas of his own work an issue that has been debated in the art community in recent years amid claims that new authentic works by the master had been discovered.

"We know that Caravaggio might have repeated himself in the early years, but not when he was a mature artist," he said. Caravaggio's work in Malta belongs to his mature phase, and the artist died in 1610, two years after leaving the island. The copies were done by contemporaries capitalizing on Caravaggio's fame and success, Sciberras said.


George Cini in Malta contributed to this report.
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