Francesco Petrucci, curator of the Palazzo Chigi Museum in the town of Ariccia, some 27 kilometres south of Rome in the hilltop area of the Castelli Romani, has scooped an exclusive first, with the exhibition of a long lost 17th century Caravaggio “Presa di Cristo” (Christ's Capture), on view to the public for the first time
Like so many “lost” Italian works of art, the painting has had an obscure and chequered history, before it was finally purchased by the late Rome art dealer, Mario Bigetti in 2003. For years it was the subject of controversy and discussion among experts. It was known that Caravaggio authorized several copies of his most popular works to meet patrons' demands, most made in his bottega by his assistants, but Petrucci, who is a leading expert on Baroque art, suspected that this particular version was an authentic work by the Master himself, pre-dating the celebrated painting on the same theme in the Dublin National Gallery collection.
Other prominent Caravaggio experts, including the late British art historian Sir Denis Mahon, as well as the Italian art specialists Claudio Strinati and Mina Gregori had also examined the painting and unanimously agreed that it was unmistakeably a first version of the Caravaggio masterpiece, painted personally by the artist. The hunch was subsequently confirmed during the subsequent extensive restoration process which revealed details and typical repentimenti in the artist's unmistakeable hand.
The painting was commissioned by the nobleman Ciriaco Mattei in 1606, as proved by the payment document in the family archives, and was subsequently passed to various owners till it was ultimately rediscovered in the National Gallery of Odessa.
The dramatic moment of Jesus' arrest is rendered in Caravaggio's unmistakeable masterly use of chiaroscuro, with the gleaming armour of the soldiers in contrast with the dark figure of Judas and the dull red robe of Christ. The profile of a man in the top right hand corner is believed to be a self-portrait of Caravaggio himself.
The Chigi Palace of Ariccia contains one of the most important collections of Roman Baroque art, donated by eminent collectors such as Fabrizio and Fiammetta Lemme (who contribute 128 works alone), Maurizio Fagiolo dell'Arco, Lascera, Ferrari and the late-lamented antiquarian Ferdinando Peretti, founder of the Walpole Gallery in London.
This is not an only “first” for Petrucci, who successfully identified a “lost” marble bust of Pope Paul V in Bratislava, Slovakia as the work of Gianlorenzo Bernini that had disappeared after the Borghese family had put it up for auction in 1893.
In addition to the exhibition, visitors can take the opportunity to explore the rooms of the Chigi Palace museum, which contains the original furniture, paintings and decorations of a princely house of the past.
The exhibition runs until the 7th January 2024