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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Brit Queen Liz Discovers $125 million lost masterpiece in her Cellar

The Times November 10, 2006

Queen's dirty 'copy' comes clean as a real $125 million Caravaggio
By Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent

For more than a century it was relegated to a storeroom of the Royal Collection, dismissed as a copy of a lost painting by Caravaggio.

Now the picture will receive pride of place in a major exhibition at Buckingham Palace because experts have discovered that it is the original of The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew by the 17th-century master.

Centuries after it was bought for Charles I, it had become so obscured by varnish and dirt that it was assumed to be a copy of a Caravaggio original.

A complete clean, prompted by Professor Maurizio Marini, an Italian scholar who sensed its potential, has led to it being seen in a dramatic new light.

Some of the world’s most distinguished scholars have confirmed the attribution to Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), whose extraordinary skills altered the course of Western art.

Sir Denis Mahon, the Old Masters connoisseur, told The Times: “It’s been stripped down and cleaned. It’s pretty clear it’s the original.”

The painting, an oil on canvas measuring 140cm by 166cm (55in by 66in) will be displayed in next year’s exhibition, The Art of Italy, at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace.

Caravaggio, revered for brilliant effects of light and shadow and strong narrative, is described as the first modern artist. In 1606, when he was in his mid-thirties, he was Rome’s most celebrated painter, but his career was blighted by his temper, drinking and duelling. This picture was painted shortly before he had to flee Rome after killing a man. On his way to Rome in 1610, with the promise of a papal pardon, Caravaggio died in mysterious circumstances.

Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, said of the discovery, which gives the Royal Collection its first Caravaggio: “It’s a huge addition to the collection.” He had been among the doubters, but said: “The dirt, old glue, and varnish layers obscured the details and the painting appeared almost monochrome, in varying shades of brown . . . It looked like nothing.”

The Art of Italy will be at Buckingham Palace from March 30, 2007, until January 20, 2008, before moving to The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, in Edinburgh, from April 2008.

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