Long-lost work by Caravaggio now on display

03 March 2016 - 02:41 By Andrea Vogt, ©The Daily Telegraph

A long-lost painting by the Italian master Caravaggio is being shown to the public for the first time at an exhibition in Tokyo.After being lost for more than 400 years, Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy was found in a private collection in 2014 and identified as an original by Mina Gregori, an Italian art historian and Caravaggio specialist.The 1606 work was previously known only through copies made by followers of the artist.The painting is one of 11 Caravaggios on display at the exhibition Caravaggio and His Time: Friends, Rivals and Enemies, which opened at the National Museum of Western Art on Tuesday and runs until June 12. The show also includes 40 paintings by other artists influenced by Caravaggio.Caravaggio, who died in 1610, was an innovative painter widely viewed as one of the founders of baroque art. His work influenced many other 17th-century artists.Gregori says of the long-lost painting: " It's magnificent. I knew it right away, as soon as I saw it. I had an immediate, instinctive reaction."The painting refers to the legend in which Mary Magdalene, living as a hermit in a cave in southern France near Aix-en-Provence after Christ's death, was overcome seven times a day by "the delightful harmonies of the celestial choirs".Gregori, who is considered the world's foremost expert on the artist, would not reveal where the painting was discovered, saying the owners did not want publicity.She said when she first saw the 100cm by 90cm oil-on-canvas in the home of its owners she had no doubt that it was the original."They laid it down on the floor; I got down on my knees and when I saw her hands I said: 'Yes, that's it. It's she. Finally'."There are at least eight exemplary copies circulating worldwide showing the Magdalene reclining against a dark background, her hands clenched, head rolled back, eyes full of tears.Scholars have suggested her reclined position and bare shoulder make a parallel between this moment of ecstasy and sexual orgasm.Gregori said her first impression was confirmed when she closely studied the colours and light on the figure's hands and face, and the folds of the clothing.But there were other important clues: a wax Vatican customs stamp on the canvas used only during the 17th century, and a handwritten note on the backing to the effect that the "reclined Magdalene of Caravaggio was in Chiaia [the historic centre of the city of Naples]" to be delivered to Cardinal Borghese.The find adds intrigue to a centuries-old art history mystery. The painting was done in the months following Caravaggio's flight from Rome in 1606, while he was in hiding on the Chiaia estates of his protectors, the powerful Colonna noble family.In 1994, another clue was discovered in a Vatican archive: a letter from the Bishop of Caserta and a Vatican nuncio addressed to Cardinal Scipione Borghese in the Kingdom of Naples, informing him of Caravaggio's death and of the fact that the boat on which he was travelling carried three paintings, including the San Giovanni and the Magdalene.The Colonna family is believed to have held the works of art.The San Giovanni is thought to have reached Cardinal Borghese and is thought by historians to be the one displayed in Rome's Galleria Borghese, which would therefore be the original.The Magdalene painting probably spent several years in Naples, where Flemish painter Louis Finson made his signed, dated copy, now on display at a museum in Marseille. Many copies were made from it.The original painting is then thought to have travelled to Rome and somehow mysteriously ended up in a private family collection.Gregori called the find a "marvellous addition" to the art world.The 80-year-old scholar and authenticator said seeing the original with her own eyes was a career highlight. "I think, after all these years, I deserved it."

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