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Found: A Gruesome Painting That May Be an Authentic Caravaggio

It may never be clear who actually painted this version of Holofernes’ beheading.

In the attic of an old house near Toulouse, a French family found a canvas that may have been painted by the Italian artist Caravaggio more than 400 years ago. When they came upon it, in April 2014, it was covered in dust; when cleaned, it showed a young woman, with her servant looking on, grasping the hair of a man whose throat she’s cutting.

This is a famous scene: the beheading of Holofernes, a story from the Book of Judith. If it is an authentic Caravaggio painting, it could be worth around $136.5 million.

For two years experts have worked on authenticating it, and the French government has forbid its export so that they can continue that research. So far, experts have not been able to agree on whether or not Caravaggio actually painted the thing.

Eric Turquin, the art dealer who unveiled the painting in 2016, cites details like the blood on Holofernes’ neck and the rough fingernails of the figures as signs of a master at work. Nicola Spinosa, a Caravaggio expert in Italy, also thinks it should be considered a true Caravaggio. But both admit there’s been no absolute proof of its provenance—and there may never be.

Other experts aren’t so sure Caravaggio painted the scene. A competing theory has it that Louis Finson, a Flemish painter who admired Caravaggio, created the painting as a copy of a Caravaggio work. Caravaggio did paint the beheading of Holofernes, but it’s significantly different:

This version is recognized as a Caravaggio. (Image: Public domain)

Without any definite proof, art critics are left to make arguments for why or why not this should be attributed to Caravaggio. “These people don’t behave like Caravaggio’s people behave....There is a fundamental lack of energy,” writes one critic, who believes the painting is a fake. Either way, says one expert who believes the painting came from Finson, it’s “an interesting work.”

Bonus finds: Tennis ball with a deadly octopus inside

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