LONDON - The Caravaggio of St Augustine, exhibited for the first time in the current exhibition in Ottawa, Caravaggio & His Followers in Rome, is a rediscovery from the collection made by the artist’s patrons Cardinal Benedetto Giustiniani and his brother Marchese Vincenzo.
A label tucked in the back of the stretcher revealed the name of the heir to the collection in the nineteenth century, and its subject, dimensions and description correspond with the work first listed by Vincenzo Giustiniani in the inventory drawn up by him in 1638 shortly before his death. Cleaning has revealed Caravaggio’s characteristic technique in many comparisons with works done in Rome around the turn of the 16th/17th century, including his habit of leaving he ground showing through in parts, alterations to the profiles of the figures, and adjustments made necessary by the optical observations he worked from, detail by detail. The painting was obscured by a thick layer of discolored varnish, and Prof. Silvia Danesi Squarzina, who recently published the inventories of the Giustiniani collection, recognized the work of an eighteenth century restorer who worked on the pictures when they were still in the Palazzo Giustiniani, and who used a preparation made up of white of egg instead of varnish. Many of the fifteen paintings by Caravaggio originally listed in the 1638 inventory have gone missing, including the portrait he did of his patron, Cardinal Benedetto, and two of them - the Agony in the Garden and a Portrait of a Courtesan, are believed to have been destroyed in Berlin at the end of the Second World War.
The painting has been examined by experts from Rome, with x-rays and infrared reflectography, and the technique has been recognized as identical to that used by the master in works done around 1600. It can be traced in the Giustiniani inventories, which have been studied thoroughly by Prof Silvia Danesi Squarzina, up till 1859, and it was sold before 1862, when the heir emptied the premises.
The painting of St Augustine by Caravaggio has now been requested for the exhibition Roma al tempo di Caravaggio at Palazzo Venezia, Rome, from Nov. 10 2011 to 5 February 2012, and will be one of the subjects of a symposium of Caravaggio specialists on November 24 and 25, 2011
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