Caravaggio paintings discovered in French church

25th January 2006, Comments 0 comments

LOCHES, France, Jan 25, 2006 (AFP) - In one of France's most exciting artistic discoveries of recent years, two paintings by the 16th-century Italian artist Caravaggio have been found in a church in the central town of Loches, the town's municipal authority said Wednesday.

LOCHES, France, Jan 25, 2006 (AFP) - In one of France's most exciting artistic discoveries of recent years, two paintings by the 16th-century Italian artist Caravaggio have been found in a church in the central town of Loches, the town's municipal authority said Wednesday.

"Pilgrimage of Our Lord to Emmaus" and "Saint Thomas putting his finger on Christ's wound" hung ignored for nearly two centuries under the organ loft in the church of Saint Anthony but have now been verified by experts.

"When I walked into the room where the paintings were, I was completely shocked ... It was very emotional. This kind of thing happens once in a lifetime," said Caravaggio specialist Jose Freches.

According to Loches municipality, the paintings are almost certainly two out of a batch of four that are known to have been bought from Caravaggio by Philippe de Bethune, a minister of France's King Henry IV.

Caravaggio, whose full name was Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, was born around 1570 and died in 1610. He was renowned for his biblical scenes which were painted with what was then a radically new attention to natural detail.

"A whole series of technical clues plus the pictorial quality of the works were enough to convince me without any doubt that these are originals," said Freches.

"Scientific tests have shown that the linen canvasses are identical to those used by Caravaggio, and the same goes for the pigments. The pictures are in their original state -- they haven't been restored as so many Caravaggios were. On top of that we know their provenance," he said.

The Emmaus picture is similar to Caravaggio's "Supper at Emmaus" which is in the National Gallery in London and the Saint Thomas resembles "The Incredulity of Saint Thomas" which is in the castle of Sans-Souci near Potsdam in Germany, according to Freches.

"But they are not exact copies. The London Christ is beardless and more chubby than the one in Loches. And in the Loches Saint Thomas the collar of one of the apostles is blue, unlike in Potsdam. We know that Caravaggio did many versions of his pictures," he said.

An enthusiastic art collector, Philippe de Bethune, Count of Selles, served as French ambassador to Rome where he is known to have befriended Caravaggio, at one point helping the painter -- who was a renowned brawler -- to escape a prison sentence.

An inventory signed by the count and currently in the national archive in Paris lists four Caravaggios and the price he paid for them. His collection was broken up at his death and the paintings are believed to have been kept in a family chapel.

The pictures were confiscated in the French revolution but in 1813 they were given to the newly-created parish of Saint Anthony. In 1999 they were taken down for examination after a curator enquired about a coat of arms on the frames. This turned out to be the Bethune emblem, which sparked the hunt.

The paintings are being kept in the town in the Loire Valley region, where they will go on display later this year.

In 1990 a lost Caravaggio painting called "The Taking of Christ" was found in the residence of the Society of Jesus -- or Jesuits -- in Dublin and is now one of the star attractions at the National Gallery of Ireland.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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