Art, Art History

The New York Times Weighs in on the Purported Discovery of the Cache of Caravaggio Works, Presenting Decidedly Skeptical Views

In an article in today’s New York Times, entitled “Scholars Doubt ‘Rediscovered’ Caravaggio Drawings”, Elisabetta Povoledo writes from Rome as follows:

As grand academic claims go, the researchers who say they have found dozens of drawings by the young Caravaggio chose a rather unorthodox way of making theirs.

On Friday the researchers, Maurizio Bernardelli Curuz and Adriana Conconi Fedrigolli, made their findings public in two e-books — each available in four languages — for sale on Amazon.com.

They also have a Web site, giovanecaravaggio.it, boldly proclaiming the finding of “one hundred rediscovered works” by Caravaggio, the Baroque artist.

But some art historians and Italian officials quickly expressed skepticism about the attribution, or dismissed it outright, with one leading curator calling it “a total invention.”

Tomaso Montanari, a professor of Baroque art at the University of Naples, said: “They didn’t pass through a scientific peer review, and that gives them little credibility. The Web site that claims that this is a great discovery reminds me of TV sales promotions. From the scholarly point of view, it really has no value.”

The two authors claim to have identified about 100 drawings and documents that can be directly attributed to Caravaggio among drawings in the Sforzesco Castle in Milan that came from the workshop of Simone Peterzano, a Milanese painter with whom the young Caravaggio served an apprenticeship.

Mr. Bernardelli Curuz, who is the artistic director of the Fondazione Brescia Musei, which manages monuments and organizes art exhibitions in the northern city of Brescia, said that they had opted to make their discovery known through an e-book because academic research in Italy was in the hands of an established, tight-knit group that tried to thwart younger scholars. The book was published in four languages “because we wanted to reach the most scholars possible,” he said, denying any underlying commercial interests.

“We are open to hearing as many opinions as possible,” he said. “It’s a more democratic way of doing history of art.” The drawings have been widely studied by scholars, and though there has been discussion over the years about whether some may be studies by Caravaggio, there has been not been enough evidence to make the case.

It is plausible that Caravaggio worked from drawings and “not only from nature, as historical sources would have us believe,” said Paola Caretta, a Caravaggio scholar who has worked on the collection in the Castello Sforzesco Castle and who said she had not seen the e-books. But whether these particular drawings are by his hand is another matter, she added.

“They could be by Caravaggio,” she said. “I don’t know. We have to start from zero because there are no known drawings by him.”

Keith Christiansen, the chairman of the department of European paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, went further, writing in an e-mail that “this all smacks of sensationalism.”

“Why should drawings by an artist who was reputed not to have drawn end up in the group of drawings by his master in Milan?” Mr. Christiansen asked, referring to Peterzano.

And J. Patrice Marandel, chief curator of European painting and sculpture at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, was dismissive. “These people are not Caravaggio experts,” he said. “It’s a total invention.”

Stefano Boeri, the councilman responsible for culture for the city of Milan, was a bit more measured in a telephone interview. “Right now, this is a possibility, nothing more,” he said. On Monday, he added, a commission of scholars will meet to evaluate the attribution and see what further research is needed.

“We are proceeding with great caution,” he said, especially because of the way the drawings were presented. “This has been a great commercial operation,” he said, musing out loud about the number of copies sold on Friday on Amazon. “This isn’t usually how scholars operate.”

Discussion

3 thoughts on “The New York Times Weighs in on the Purported Discovery of the Cache of Caravaggio Works, Presenting Decidedly Skeptical Views

  1. Wonderful Blog. Great Post. This might be the great case of 100 “great maybe’s”. Too bad they cannot find a polaroid shot of Caravaggio next to the drawings. I look forward to following.

    Posted by durerpost | July 9, 2012, 7:32 am
  2. I have mixed feelings about this. Firstly, even though so many scholars don’t believe it for a second, this pair certainly got everyone talking! The way they skipped peer review and and directly published is kind of sketchy on one hand, but also reminds me of the beginning of Impressionism and the break down of the elitist Salon. I would love it if it were true, although I doubt the authenticity of the drawings. But I am still sort of proud of their bold move!

    Posted by The Art Pour | July 11, 2012, 9:41 am

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  1. Pingback: The Art of Getting it Wrong: Caravaggio | t'arthead - July 7, 2012

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