Rediscovered Caravaggio masterpiece to go on show at Madrid's Museo del Prado

Ecce Homo
Ecce Homo Copyright Giusti Claudio/AP
Copyright Giusti Claudio/AP
By Christian Moore with AP
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Madrid’s Prado Museum has confirmed that a painting which almost sold for the price of a Macbook at auction is in fact a long lost work of the Italian master painter worth tens of millions.


In 2021, proceedings were called to a halt at an art auction in Spain. Something didn’t seem right about one of the lots - it was just a little too familiar.

Those early suspicions have now been confirmed: it turns out that the piece up for sale with a starting price of €1,500 was in fact a hidden masterpiece by one of the greatest painters of all time, Caravaggio.

The news was announced yesterday (7 May) by the Museo del Prado in Madrid. Following three years of restoration and evaluation, Caravaggio’s Ecce Homo (Latin for “Behold the man”) had been authenticated as a ‘masterpiece’ following ‘absolutely unprecedented’ consensus among experts on the painter, the museum said.

‘Painted by the great Italian artist around 1605-09 and believed to have once been part of the private collection of Phillip IV of Spain, the painting is one of around only 60 known works by Caravaggio in existence, and thus one of the most valuable old master artworks in the world,' the Prado's statement read.

Going on show

What’s more, the oil-on-canvas depicting Christ bleeding under a crown of thorns will be open to public viewing from 27 May until October, as part of a unique one-work exhibition at the Prado.

After October, Ecce Homo will move to the museum’s permanent collection until early next year.

The exhibition was made possible following an agreement with the piece’s new owner, who has not been identified.

The painting’s original owners - a family which had kept possession of it without knowing its secret since the 19th century - were given permission by the government of Madrid to sell the painting privately to the new owner for an undisclosed sum.

Photos provided by the Prado Museum show the restoration work on Caravaggio's "Ecce Homo"
Photos provided by the Prado Museum show the restoration work on Caravaggio's "Ecce Homo"Giusti Claudio/AP

They had originally put the work on sale with such a low valuation because it had been misattributed to a disciple of a 17th-century Spanish painter, José de Ribera.

Following its rediscovery, Ecce Homo was restored by specialist Andrea Cipriani and his team under the supervision of Madrid's government experts.

It is understood that the new owner wanted the public presentation of the Caravaggio to take place in the Prado.

“For our part, we are more than happy to be the stage to present this new unshown work of Caravaggio to the public and critics,” Prado Director Miguel Falomir said in a video statement.

The man himself

For the uninitiated, Caravaggio - full name Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio - was an Italian artist born in 1571. He led a chequered life in which poverty and violence recurred. Caravaggio was in particular a notoriously rumbustious brawler, and four years after fleeing Rome following his involvement - intentional or otherwise - in the murder of a young man, he died in contested circumstances in 1610 at the age of 38.

Caravaggio's "The Taking of Christ" was rediscovered in a Dublin dining room in 1990
Caravaggio's "The Taking of Christ" was rediscovered in a Dublin dining room in 1990Wikimedia Commons

His art is often identifiable for its use of chiaroscuro - dramatic contrast between light and shadow. Oddly, this technique might be the very reason why some of Caravaggio’s works have gone missing for so long. (Ireland’s National Gallery, for example, now houses the Italian’s The Taking of Christ, after it was discovered in a Dublin dining room in 1990.) Over the years, as a painting’s varnish yellows or accrues dirt - particularly in smoke-heavy domestic environments - Caravaggio’s hallmark treatment of light can become obscured to the untrained eye.

Thankfully for the previous owners of Ecce Homo and everyone who will now get to see it, there were more than a few trained eyes at that auction three years ago.

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