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A fresh look at the "Caravaggio" of Loches?

The town has asked an expert in Italian painting, Francesca Cappelletti, to give a new opinion on the "Caravaggio".

In 2013, a symposium of specialists organised in Loches clearly favoured the hypothesis of copies. In their opinion, "The Last Supper at Emmaus" and "The Incredulity of St. Thomas", exhibited in the Antonine Gallery in Loches, are works of fine craftsmanship. No doubt they were painted by Caravaggio's fellow travellers, of course. But not by Caravaggio's own hand.

This is the opinion expressed in the latest municipal bulletin by the dossier coordinated by heritage deputy Stéphane Blond on the Italian year in Loches: "These two paintings are identified today as copies," it says.

"In the same municipal bulletin, the mayor, Marc Angenault, leaves the door still open. Or more precisely, he says he has asked an expert on Italian painting, Francesca Cappelletti, to "shed some light on the matter".

Francesca Cappelletti curated the landmark exhibition "Caravaggio in Rome, Friends and Enemies," which closed at the end of January at the Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris. "After being at Jacquemart-André, I wrote to him and suggested that he come," Marc Angenault explained to NR.

"At the beginning of this story, we had quite a few contacts. I see in Francesca Cappelletti the opportunity to contact someone new, who arrived on the scene more recently.

To date, the mayor has not received any response from Francesca Cappelletti. He intends to contact her again through the University of Ferrara, Italy, where she teaches. A professor of modern art history, Francesca Cappelletti has worked extensively on Caravaggio (*) and the Caravaggio painters. This is perhaps the best way to take a fresh look at an old story.

(*) She has notably published "Caravaggio. Un ritratto somigliante", a 270-page collection of the Italian master's work.

An expert in Italian painting is in Loches to study the origin of the "Caravaggio". A research partnership could be created with the town.

Will the story of the two paintings exhibited in the Saint-Antoine gallery ever have an epilogue? For more than a decade, many experts have tried to confirm whether "The Incredulity of St. Thomas" and "The Last Supper at Emmaus" are the work of the Italian master Caravaggio, or of one of his companions or even admirers. To unravel the mystery, Francesca Cappelletti, an expert on the painter, crossed the Alps to visit the site. Yesterday and today, this professor of modern art history at the University of Ferrara is studying the two paintings with a view to establishing a research partnership with the town of Loches in the coming months.

Endless hypotheses

The mystery is complete, but one thing is certain: although the paintings are well made, the analyses already carried out call into question their authenticity. They are now considered to be copies. That's for the technical part. On the other hand, the expertise that Francesca Cappelletti will have to provide is quite different. A specialist in art history, her work focuses on the traceability of the paintings, by cross-referencing dates and documentary sources. This investigative work is based, among other things, on the inventory of Philippe de Béthune, a great collector and patron of Caravaggio, whose coat of arms was found on the paintings. "This 1608 document mentions these two paintings, which leads us to believe that they are authentic. It also mentions other works, which are doubtful to be by Caravaggio", the expert posits.

This is one of the puzzles that will have to be solved. Tracing the time line should make it possible to test the numerous hypotheses put forward by other experts. Are the paintings by Prospero Orsi, a fellow traveller of Caravaggio's? "The testimony of a Flemish painter states that he did not have a studio to teach his style to his pupils. So perhaps he allowed his works to be reproduced, in order to better respond to commissions, as historian Clovis Whitfield assumes. This commercial strategy is difficult to prove. It is possible to believe, as some assume, that Caravaggio himself produced different versions of his paintings," suggests the Italian researcher, who also offers more questions than answers. That's what art history is all about: a lot of assumptions and long research," she says. Whether they are originals or copies, these paintings are the first to attest to the spread of Caravaggio's style in France. They will remain valuable pieces. It is also these endless debates that forge legends.

Source : La nouvelle république.

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