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Lost Caravaggio goes on display after almost being sold at auction for just $1,600

By Jack Guy, CNN

(CNN) — A lost Caravaggio painting that was almost mistakenly sold at auction for a bargain price has gone on display at the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain, after being rescued and restored.

“Ecce Homo,” which was painted by the Italian master around 1606-09, will feature in a special one-piece exhibition from Tuesday, according to a statement from the museum.

The oil on canvas work depicts Jesus wearing a crown of thorns with blood running down his face and onto his chest. In front of him to the left is Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor in Judea, while a third figure stands behind Jesus holding a red robe over his shoulders.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, better known simply as Caravaggio, is known for his visceral depictions of violence.

Caravaggio painted “Ecce Homo” toward the end of his life when he had fled Rome, accused of murder, and was living in exile in Naples, where his work underwent a marked shift in style, becoming darker and more somber.

“The painting is one of around only 60 known works by Caravaggio in existence, and thus one of the most valuable old master artworks in the world,” said the museum.

Formerly part of King Philip IV’s art collection, the painting was passed on to the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, which then exchanged it for another artwork with a politician named Evaristo Pérez de Castro in 1823, according to the museum.

It then remained in the same family, but its significance went unnoticed until it surfaced at auction house Ansorena in April 2021 with a starting price of 1,500 euros ($1,600), attributed to a pupil of Spanish painter José de Ribera.

Experts from the Prado Museum highlighted the misattribution to Spain’s Ministry of Culture, which placed an export ban on the work and declared it a national treasure, Jorge Coll, CEO of Colnaghi Gallery in Madrid, which has had the painting in its care since its real origin came to light, told CNN on Tuesday.

Coll then coordinated the authentication of the work by leading experts, as well its restoration, before it was sold to the current owner. Coll told CNN that he cannot reveal the identity of the buyer or the purchase price for legal reasons.

The painting represents “one of the greatest discoveries in the history of art, inspiring an unprecedented speed of consensus around its authentication,” said the museum.

It has also been restored “in an informed and rigorous manner,” reads the statement.

“Ecce Homo” will be displayed at the Prado Museum until October 13.

Both the previous owner and the buyer were keen for the painting to go on public display at the Prado, said Coll.

“It means the world,” he said. “Everybody has to go and see it.”

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