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Forgery or Fact? Controversial Caravaggio Masterpiece Arrives at the MFA

Supper at Emmaus
Supper at Emmaus

The art world has been in uproar about the discovery of two paintings attributed to the notorious genius, Caravaggio. They are nearly identical with the light, drama and articulate composition we have come to expect from the Italian artist. The two Saint Francis in Meditation have scholars in a heated debate over which one is the original, and this spring the public is invited form their own opinion when both works come to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Saint Francis in Meditation

The first of the paintings was discovered in the Roman church of Santa Maria della Concezione Romano, the second in the Church of San Pietro in Carpineto Romano. The MFA is showcasing both works side by side, such that the public may examine and compare the paintings mark for mark. There will be archival research and enlarged details of both paintings for visitors to make use of. Happily, viewers will be provided with a genuine Caravaggio, The Fortune Teller (1594), in the same exhibit so as to become better acquainted with his handiwork.

Caravaggio led a tumultuous life punctuated by astonishing paintings and violence. He left his home of Milan after wounding a police officer, and was said to arrive in Rome ‘naked and extremely needy’. From the first he was prone to brawling and mixing with people from all walks of life – which perhaps goes to explain the dramatically mundane nature of his religious figures. His Death of the Virgin, Saint Peter and Supper at Emmaus shocked his contemporaries with their stark realism.

The violence would only escalate as his life went on, for in May of 1606 he killed Ranuccio Tomassoni (probably over a gambling debt), and was consequently exiled from Rome. Caravaggio headed to Malta, to seek out the Knights of Malta, possibly hoping to procure a pardon for Tomassoni’s death. For a while things seemed to be going well for the painter, until he wound up imprisoned by the knights for wounding one of their members in a drunken fight. Caravaggio managed to make his escape to Sicily. Soon enough, a report from Rome to the ducal court of Urbino proclaimed that artist dead. The cause of his death is unknown, forensic science is torn over his being murdered or lead poisoned from his paint, a mysterious dichotomy befitting the man himself.

The exhibition will run from April the 12th of 2014 to June 15th 2014 at the Lee Gallery, MFA Boston. The show is being organized by the Muscarelle Museum of Art.