US$170m Long-Lost Caravaggio Painting Sold Privately To Mystery Buyer Ahead of Auction in France

A long-lost painting by Caravaggio (1571 - 1610) has been snatched up by an anonymous foreign buyer two days before it was due to go under the hammer. With an estimate of up to €150m (US$170m), the painting was scheduled to be sold at an auction in Toulouse, France on 27 June, hoping to set a new auction record for the Baroque master.

Marc Labarbe, local auctioneer who discovered the painting, revealed that an anonymous foreign buyer had stepped in to purchase the work. The price nor the identity of the buyer can be revealed due to a confidentiality agreement but Labarbe stated that it "went for a good price".

Judith and Holofernes was discovered in an attic at Toulouse, France

The artwork, which is believed to be Caravaggio's original Judith and Holofernes, was discovered in an attic at Toulouse five years ago by Labarbe when the family called him in to investigate the canvas. A series of investigation and studies have since been carried out to prove its authenticity, even the Louvre is involved. Meanwhile, the French government had placed a 30-month export ban on the painting. 

Eric Turquin states that the painting is a real Caravaggio work

Eric Turquin, an appraiser and auctioneer in Paris, said tests have confirmed that the work's paint pigments matched what Caravaggio used. He stated that X-ray scans have revealed that the painting was retouched a lot. If it was a copy, it would have fewer changes. Despite Turquin's claim, some experts still remain skeptical. They believe that the painting could be by the Flemish artist Louis Finson who worked alongside Caravaggio. 

Caravaggio's Judith Beheading Holofernes, circa 1598|Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome Italy

The painting depicts the biblical scene of the Jewish widow Judith beheading the drunken Assyrian general Holofernes. It is the second by the artist to depict this scene. The first, dating from around 1600, is on display at the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica in Rome.

Chalk portrait of Caravaggio

Judith and Holofernes was created in 1606 when Caravaggio was on the run after being condemned to death for stabbing a man in a street brawl. In a letter sent by a Flemish painter visiting Naples to his patron, it was mentioned that the painting was on offer for under 300 ducats and the seller was Louis Finson. The work remained unsold and was passed on to artist and dealer Abraham Vinck when Finson passed away a decade later. Then, the painting simply disappeared. There are only sixty-odd original Caravaggios remaining which puts many people in doubt about the authenticity of the present work.

The mysterious buyer is said to be connected to a "major museum" and bought the painting with the stipulation that it will be exhibited in a museum outside of France. If that is true, whether it be a real Caravaggio or not, the public will soon be able to take a closer look at the work.