Passion For Art

Secret stash of 100 ‘Caravaggio sketches’ found in Milan castle

Researchers say alleged early works show master painter’s key traits and could be worth £560m

Alleged Caravaggio sketch next to original

An alleged Caravaggio sketch laid next to the old soldier in the master painter’s Conversion of Saul.

A team of historians have claimed to have stumbled on 100 previously undiscovered early sketches by Caravaggio hidden in a castle in Milan, a cache they have valued at £560m.

The sketches were found among 1,378 works in the archive of painter Simone Peterzano, who employed the teenage Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio, as an apprentice in his Lombardy studio between 1584 and 1588, before the young painter headed south to Rome to win fame.

“We always felt it was impossible that Caravaggio left no record, no studies in the workshop of a painter as famous as his mentor,” Maurizio Bernardelli Curuz Guerrieri, artistic director for the Brescia Museum Foundation, told Italian news agency Ansa.

The sketches attributed to the artist, who championed the dramatic chiaroscuro technique of mixing light and shade, and whose popularity has soared over the past century, will be published on Friday in an ebook to be sold on Amazon.

Bernardelli and fellow researcher Adriana Conconi Fedrigolli searched through Peterzano’s collection in Milan’s Castello Sforzesco after a two-year study of works by Caravaggio hanging in churches and museums, to understand the geometric patterns the artist later favoured, particularly in his Roman period.

“Every artist has a matrix style, unique to them that is distinguishable through the postures and body types in their sketches. They memorise them as students, learning by force of repetition, and carry them into maturity for their later works,” said Bernardelli.

The team found what Bernardelli called Caravaggio’s “structural DNA” standing out in sketches found at the castle, which is owned by the city of Milan. Of the 100 sketches attributed to the artist, 83 feature faces or parts of the body which he fully reprised in later paintings.

“That demonstrates that Caravaggio left Lombardy with very rich figurative baggage,” said Bernardelli.

Conconi Fedrigolli said the 100 sketches were evidently not the work of Peterzano. “The work of the maestro is extremely fussy and precise, whereas the work of the adolescent Merisi, just like his mature work, is powerful,realistic, but still messy,” she said. The sketches reveal the young Merisi made mistakes, she added. “Some errors were so deep-seated they reappear years later in more celebrated paintings, including his noses of cows and his heels, which he never mastered.”

The findings shed light on a period of Caravaggio’s life that has been shrouded in mystery until now. After he moved to Rome, Merisi acquired notoriety after killing a man, brawling and arguing with his patrons, then fleeing to Naples and Malta before painting some of his most dramatic works in Sicily. He died in mysterious circumstances in Tuscany, aged 38, possibly of syphilis, sword wounds, malaria or poison from the lead in his paints, according to a recent theory based on studies of bones supposed to be his.

Bernardelli said he wanted to find Caravaggio‘s early sketches after studying the artist’s mother. “Caravaggio’s mother, Lucia Aratori, had spent a fortune to pay the expensive fees to be an apprentice for four years in Simone Peterzano’s studio,” he said. “It is impossible that she would not have wanted to see the results.”

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December 6, 2012 - Posted by | Articles | , , , , , ,

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