Lost €120 million Caravaggio ‘found in a leaky French attic’

A leak in the attic of a house near Toulouse led the owner to find a painting that could be the work of famed Italian artist Caravaggio. And if so, it would be worth a lot of money.

Lost €120 million Caravaggio 'found in a leaky French attic'
A work though to have been painted by the Renaissance master Caravaggio has been found in France. Photo: Patrick Kovarik/AFP

Art experts in Paris revealed on Tuesday that a long-lost masterpiece by Italian painter Caravaggio may have been unearthed in the attic of a house near Toulouse, southwestern France.

And it’s all thanks to a leaky roof.

Parisian art expert Eric Turquin revealed on Tuesday that the owners of the home went to check the source of the dripping water in the attic, where they had never before set foot.

While investigating, they stumbled across an old painting that could be Caravaggio’s biblical scene Judith Beheading Holofernes, which dates back to around 1600.

Caravaggio painted two versions of Judith Beheading Holofernes, one of which is on display at the National Gallery of Ancient Art in Rome. The other disappeared around a century after it was painted.

Experts say the painting has probably lain forgotten in the attic for over 150 years and is in an excellent state, considering where its home has been for so long.

The owners of the house say their ancestors took over the house on the outskirts of Toulouse in the middle of the 19th century.

The big question now is whether the work of art found in the attic is actually the lost Caravaggio masterpiece, but the fact it was unveiled to the public suggests experts believe it may well be.

Turquin is convinced of its authenticity and has already described the discovery as “the most beautiful moment in [his] career”.

“The peculiar light, the energy that’s typical of Caravaggio, without corrections, from a steady hand, and the pictorial materials, mean this painting is authentic,” Turquin told the press on Tuesday.

“An average artist or someone copying the painting just couldn't do this,” he said.

But experts are reportedly in disagreement 

The answer to the question of whether it is genuine or not will be of extreme interest to the owner, given that initial estimations put the value of the masterpiece at €120 million. But they have to wait a while.

French authorities are taking no chances and the ministry of culture classed the painting as a “National Treasure”, which means there is a 30-month ban on it being exported, until experts can determine its authenticity.

“The painting deserves to be retained on French territory as a very important landmark Caravaggio painting,” reads the government's Journal Officiel website.

According to Europe1 radio, the Louvre gallery in Paris would be interested in buying the painting but would need to find the finances.

A spokeswoman for the Louvre told The Local that gallery chiefs had seen the painting but that it could take months – or even years – before they know whether or not it is Carravagio’s second version of Judith Beaheading Holofernes.

The spokeswoman said: “The period of 30 months, during which the painting is held in the country, will give specialists the time to study the journey and the creator of this work.”

If the Louvre or the French state decline to buy the painting, then it could be sold anywhere in the world.

Either way, if it’s a genuine Caravaggio then the owners of the property in Toulouse should have enough money to fix their leaky roof.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


New guide to Paris museums – showing only the nudes

There are lots of guides to the visual splendours of Paris' museums and art galleries - but for those with a short attention span comes a new one, showing only nude or erotic artworks.

New guide to Paris museums - showing only the nudes
Find your way straight to the most erotic works in Paris galleries. Photo: Guiseppe Cacace/AFP

The online guides to the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay museums are produced by the porn website Pornhub and provide a list of the best erotic artworks in each museum, plus directions of how to get there – so you don’t need to waste your time looking at paintings of people in clothes.

The Classic Nudes series has been ruffling some feathers since it was posted online earlier in July, with the Uffizi museum in Florence threatening to sue. Bosses at the Louvre have said only that they are ‘dismayed’, while the Musée d’Orsay has remained silent on the subject.

The guide for the Musée d’Orsay lists 11 erotic artworks, together with a tongue-in-cheek commentary, and a location for each piece within the museum.

The Sleep by Gustave Courbet. Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP

Among the works featured are;

  • Le déjeuner sur l’herbe by Edouard Manet (1863) – which features a group having a picnic in which the woman has lost her clothes (the men remain fully dressed in three-piece suits and ties).
  • Un combat des coqs by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1846) – a nude couple watching a cock fight (that’s cockerels fighting, just to be clear).
  • L’origine du monde by Gustave Courbet (1866) – more than 150 years after it was first painted, the intimate close-up of female genitalia is still making waves. In 2019 Facebook had to pay damages to a French teacher whose account was closed when he posted a picture of the famous artwork.

The guide for the Louvre includes:

Nude young Man by Hippolyte Flandrin. Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP
  • Portrait of Madeleine by Marie Guillemine Benoist (1800) – groundbreaking in several senses, this painting is one of the few on the list by a woman, and shows a topless black woman, painted just six years after the abolition of slavery in France’s colonies. 
  • Diane sortant du bain by François Boucher (1742) – one of many paintings on the list showing women having a bath, this features the Greek goddess Diana and her favourite nymph apparently surprised by the artist in the process of drying off after a bath. 
  • Le Jeune homme nu by Hippolyte Flandrin (1835) – most of the flesh shown in both the galleries is female (because that’s the patriarchy for you) but here we have a more rare male nude, a study of a young man sitting and looking rather sad and pensive.

As is hopefully clear, the Pornhub guides are explicit in nature and not suitable for children.

Both museums, however, form a great day out for all the family and contain a lot of fully-clothed artwork too. At present both are operating reduced visitor numbers due to health rules, so advance booking to recommended.

IN DETAIL: When do France’s top tourist sites reopen?