Original Caravaggio Almost Sold for Just $1,500

3. Ecce Homo tras la restauracionok
Caravaggio, “Ecce Homo” (c. 1605–1609), oil on canvas, 43 3/4 x 34 inches (image courtesy Prado Museum)

A previously misattributed Caravaggio painting is headed to a one-work exhibition at Madrid’s Prado Museum, where it will go on public display for the first time in its 500-year history.

“Ecce Homo”(c. 1605–1609) was once mistakenly attributed to a student of José de Ribera, and three years ago, it was slated to hit the auction block with a measly €1,500 (~$1,600) reserve. Suspecting experts tipped off Spain’s Ministry of Culture, which stopped the sale and banned the work from leaving the country. The painting has since been restored and authenticated as “without a doubt, a Caravaggio masterpiece,” according to the Prado.

The Baroque artwork depicts the Roman Emperor Pontius Pilate presenting Christ — whom he ordered to be crucified — with the words “Ecce Homo” (“Behold the Man”). The painting passed through the collections of numerous Spanish government officials before arriving in the hands of King Philip IV in 1664, and was listed in the inventory of his son King Charles II’s apartment in 1701 and 1702. “Ecce Homo” changed hands a few more times before it came under the ownership of Evaristo Pérez de Castro Méndez in 1821. 

The painting remained in the family for over two centuries. Although the 2021 auction was halted, the Spanish government allowed the family to sell the painting privately earlier this year. El Pais reports that an English collector purchased “Ecce Homo” for €30 million (~$32,300) and promised to donate the work for public display after his death.

“The speed of consensus around the work being a Caravaggio upon its rediscovery was absolutely unprecedented in the critical history of the painter, on whom scholars have rarely agreed, at least in the last forty years,” scholar Maria Cristina Terzaghi, who was part of the authentication process, said in a Prado Museum statement.

There are only around 60 known Carraviogio’s in existence, one of which is already in the collection of the Spanish institution. “Ecce Homo” will go on solo view from May 28 through October and will then be displayed alongside works in the museum’s permanent collection for four months.

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