Art experts in Paris revealed on Tuesday that a long-lost masterpiece by Italian painter Caravaggio may have been unearthed in the attic of a house near Toulouse, southwestern France.
And it’s all thanks to a leaky roof.
Parisian art expert Eric Turquin revealed on Tuesday that the owners of the home went to check the source of the dripping water in the attic, where they had never before set foot.
While investigating, they stumbled across an old painting that could be Caravaggio’s biblical scene Judith Beheading Holofernes, which dates back to around 1600.
Caravaggio painted two versions of Judith Beheading Holofernes, one of which is on display at the National Gallery of Ancient Art in Rome. The other disappeared around a century after it was painted.
Experts say the painting has probably lain forgotten in the attic for over 150 years and is in an excellent state, considering where its home has been for so long.
The owners of the house say their ancestors took over the house on the outskirts of Toulouse in the middle of the 19th century.
The big question now is whether the work of art found in the attic is actually the lost Caravaggio masterpiece, but the fact it was unveiled to the public suggests experts believe it may well be.
Turquin is convinced of its authenticity and has already described the discovery as “the most beautiful moment in [his] career”.
“The peculiar light, the energy that’s typical of Caravaggio, without corrections, from a steady hand, and the pictorial materials, mean this painting is authentic,” Turquin told the press on Tuesday.
“An average artist or someone copying the painting just couldn't do this,” he said.
But experts are reportedly in disagreement
The answer to the question of whether it is genuine or not will be of extreme interest to the owner, given that initial estimations put the value of the masterpiece at €120 million. But they have to wait a while.
French authorities are taking no chances and the ministry of culture classed the painting as a “National Treasure”, which means there is a 30-month ban on it being exported, until experts can determine its authenticity.
“The painting deserves to be retained on French territory as a very important landmark Caravaggio painting,” reads the government's Journal Officiel website.
According to Europe1 radio, the Louvre gallery in Paris would be interested in buying the painting but would need to find the finances.
A spokeswoman for the Louvre told The Local that gallery chiefs had seen the painting but that it could take months – or even years – before they know whether or not it is Carravagio’s second version of Judith Beaheading Holofernes.
The spokeswoman said: “The period of 30 months, during which the painting is held in the country, will give specialists the time to study the journey and the creator of this work.”
If the Louvre or the French state decline to buy the painting, then it could be sold anywhere in the world.
Either way, if it’s a genuine Caravaggio then the owners of the property in Toulouse should have enough money to fix their leaky roof.