Claim puts Caravaggio in middle of uproar

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Claim puts Caravaggio in middle of uproar

ROME - Caravaggio was notorious for brawling, so it might be fitting that a claim by two Italian art historians that they discovered as many as 100 drawings by the painter in his boyhood has sparked an uproar.

The researchers say they found dozens of early drawings by Caravaggio in the collection of master Milanese artist Simone Peterzano, the painter’s teacher from 1584 to 1588. Many experts have responded with skepticism: Art historians have never definitively attributed any drawings to Caravaggio, who shook up 16th-century art by using models from the lower walks of life for religious scenes and dramatically counterpointing light and dark.

Last Friday, the curator of the drawings collection at Milan’s Sforzesco Castle, where the collection of 1,500 paintings generally attributed to Peterzano is kept, challenged the seriousness of the researchers’ methods, saying they never set foot in the room to scrutinize the works.

“We would be happy to have a Caravaggio,’’ said Francesca Rossi, cautioning that it’s difficult to be sure of the works’ provenance. Making it especially difficult is Caravaggio’s habit of not signing his work. As a result, attempts at fakes and uncertain claims of authenticity have been frequent.

Rossik dismissed the historians’ methods as naive.

“What surprised us about this thing is the fact that these experts never came here in the drawings department to see the works,’’ she said. “They evaluated [the drawings] using black and white photographs.’’

The researchers defended their claim, which they made public on Thursday in an interview with the Italian news agency ANSA.

Adriana Conconi Fedrigolli said in a phone interview that some of their research team studied the drawings firsthand. When pressed to identify the other researchers, she said she wasn’t authorized to reveal their names and passed the phone to the other art historian, Maurizio Bernardelli Curuz.

“I saw the originals,’’ Bernadelli Curuz said. The art historian said he was able to visit the collection “after hours,’’ thanks to his contacts with a high-level city official who was authorized to enter the drawings department. He declined to identify the city official.


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