Lonely Planet Writer

Spot the difference? Disputed Caravaggio goes on display alongside the real thing in Milan

A disputed work of art, supposedly created by the renowned baroque artist Caravaggio, went on display last week in the Brera Art Gallery in Milan.

A woman looks at a painting believed to be the 'Judith Beheading Holofernes' by Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (L) and a copy of the painting by Flemish artist Louis Finson, on November 9, 2016 at the Brera Art Gallery in Milan.
A woman looks at a painting believed to be the ‘Judith Beheading Holofernes’ by Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (L) and a copy of the painting by Flemish artist Louis Finson, on November 9, 2016 at the Brera Art Gallery in Milan. Image by AFP / GIUSEPPE CACACE

However, the reception to the painting has been mixed and subject to much rancor. The piece is showcased in an exhibit that also includes authenticated Caravaggio works. In the interest of avoiding controversy, it features a disclaimer below it so as not to mislead the public.

The piece is a depiction of the biblical scene in which Judith beheads the Assyrian general, Holofernes. DW reports that the condition in which it was recovered in a Toulouse attic in 2014 was remarkably good. Specialists estimate the value of the 400-year-old artwork to be €120 million ($132 million). Since then, experts have engaged in heated debate regarding the painting’s authenticity, with one view being it could be the work of Flemish painter and art dealer, Louis Finson.

Disputed Caravaggio goes on display in Milan.
Disputed Caravaggio goes on display in Milan. Image by 500px

Director of the art gallery, James Bradburne, explained his reasoning for the inclusion of the piece by stating that the museum aims “to be a laboratory for creating new knowledge.” And in a compromise arrangement with those opposed to the inclusion of the painting, it will be found hanging beside Finson’s copy of the Caravaggio. In fact, Finson was understood to have owned the original prior to its disappearance. The exhibition, which is running until 5 February, will include six paintings.

The move to include this work has sparked such controversy that one member of the museum’s advisory board, art historian, Giovanni Agosti, has resigned. As it has proven such a controversial topic, a day-long seminar will take place in January, where it is expected the foremost Caravaggio specialists will debate the issue. Visitors to the museum will be offered the opportunity to inspect the painting in person and decide for themselves whether they think an authentic Caravaggio hangs before them.