Art historian Mina Gregori claims to have identified a hitherto unknown painting in a private collection as Caravaggio’s original Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy, which art historians believed until now to be in Rome.
The 90-year-old president of the Roberto Longhi Foundation in Florence and foremost authority on the subject was contacted by the painting’s owners earlier this year, and is convinced that it is the 1606 original.
“I have become a connoisseur and I know a Caravaggio when I see one,” she said. “The varying flesh tones of the body, the intensity of the face. The strong wrists and the blackened hands in wonderful variations of colour and light and with a shadow obscuring half her fingers are the most interesting and intense aspects of the painting. It is Caravaggio.”
The presence of a handwritten note on the back of the painting referring to Caravaggio’s Mary Magdalene for “Cardinal [Scipione] Borghese of Rome” further strengthens Gregori’s case, as the cardinal was both a patron of Caravaggio and a keen art collector.
“This document definitively confirms the identification and attribution of the painting,” Gregori said.
Members of the art world are more circumspect about the attribution. “There are many versions of a presumed lost original of this subject by Caravaggio, none of which so far qualify as autograph,” said John Gash, a senior lecturer on art history at the University of Aberdeen and expert on Caravaggio. “This might be it, but without seeing the original painting, I would suggest extreme caution.”