100 New Caravaggios – An Update

With regard to the displacement of the Duchess of Cambridge from the front page of the Daily Torygraph by a report of the discovery of a hundred Caravaggio drawings, that fine paper has published an item today deep in its inside pages. The is the electronic version in full:

“Amazon withdraws controversial Caravaggio book

A controversial new book in which two Italian art historians claim to have discovered 100 previously unknown Caravaggios has been withdrawn from sale, amid growing doubts over its reliability.

The lavishly illustrated two-volume e-book , ‘Young Caravaggio – One hundred rediscovered works’, went on sale on Amazon just days ago and was available for download to Kindles.

But the book, which contained 1,000 images of Caravaggio’s work and the supposed “new” drawings, was abruptly withdrawn from Amazon’s website on Tuesday, with the title crossed out and a blank space where the cover of the book had been displayed.

Maurizio Bernardelli Curuz and Adriana Conconi Fedrigolli, the art historians who wrote it, claimed to have found 100 previously unrecognised sketches and drawings by the Baroque master after sifting through an archive of art work held by a castle in Milan.

The collection came from the studio of Simone Peterzano, a Milanese artist under whom Caravaggio studied as a teenager from 1584 to 1588.

The historians claimed that “after a long period of research”, their studies had “made it possible to understand the secret mainspring of one of the greatest painters of all time, overturning among other things the widespread theory that Caravaggio never drew.”

But their claims were met with scepticism by many scholars, while the custodians of the archive said they were unaware that the two art historians had been researching the collection.

The withdrawal of the book raised questions about why the historians’ claims, which garnered worldwide media attention, had not been peer-reviewed.

A spokesman for Amazon in Italy confirmed that the book was no longer on sale but declined to comment on whether the book had been withdrawn because of doubts over the calibre of the research. “It was available, but no longer,” she told The Daily Telegraph.

Meanwhile Stefano Boeri, a cultural official with Milan city council, announced the launching of an investigation to ascertain “the correctness of the procedures regarding the publication” of the e-book.

A panel of heritage experts from Castello Sforzesco, the castle where the archive of sketches and drawings is kept, would scrutinise “with rigour the ideas advanced by the authors of the e-book,” he said.

The curators of the collection pointed out that it had been studied by many well-qualified scholars in the past and none had identified any of the drawings as being the work of Caravaggio, whose real name was Michelangelo Merisi.

They said the two art historians had only studied photographic reproductions of the drawings, not the originals.

Maria Teresa Fiorio, the former director of the castle’s collection, said last week that she was “perplexed” by the claims made in the book.

“A serious scholar doesn’t produce an e-book – they would publish their findings in the appropriate journals. Everyone who has studied the collection has asked themselves – is it possible that some were drawn by Caravaggio? No one has drawn that conclusion.”

The authors of the book said it would instead be available for sale on lulu.com, a website for self-published books.

They said they did not know why their book had been dropped by Amazon.

“The jamming of the Amazon system has damaged us because to understand the discovery it is essential to see the 1,000 images that we have collated,” Mr Bernardelli Curuz told Ansa, the Italian news agency.”

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After the main article, there were comments including this one from dashmywig:

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen; welcome to Chipping Sodbury University’s emergency debate on the mystery of the Caravaggio discoveries.  Our experts today are Emeritus Regius Professor Emperor David Elkington , SJ, nvq honoris causa, finder of the fabulous treasure trove of Dead Sea Codices, who will propose the motion that these so-called ‘finds’ are a load of crap; opposing the motion will be themost eminent Italian academic Profesore Silvano Vinceti, Yr of Porto Ercole, BA Herculaneum (failed), who will try to convince you that they are the real McCoy.  Prof E?

”Well, it’s obvious, innit? I mean, like, our theories about the codices and their mysterious links to the dawn of all religions were pretty comprehensively trashed by the Tabloid Telegraph commenterati, so why should this latest claptrap by money-grubbing, attention-seeking Eyeties carry any more weight; narmean?”

”Thank you, Prof E: a most illuminating contribution and so elegantly phrased. Now over to you, Profesore.”

”Ecco, signore; go down on bended knee, for you are in the presence of the punditissimo, the expert polymath who dug up Caravaggio’s bones, interpreted the mysterious symbols in Mona Lisa’s eyes and is on the verge of digging up the good lady’s skeleton from its long-forgotten tomb under the Florence land-fill site. Of course these drawings and paintings are genuine Michelangelo Merisi works of art. In fact, I’m so convinced about this that I’m going to publish my own e-book, once I’ve closed a sufficiently lucrative deal with Amazon.”

”Thank you both: I think the betting is still open on this one.””

A second comment was by don55:

“They used reproductions so I wonder if they got all the necessary copyrighting permissions.”

Now I know that I’ve asked this before, but can someone please explain copyright laws to me regarding “old” works of art? I know Mr Hirst can get a bit stroppy about other people pinching his work such as when BA painted the tail fin of a plane with spots, but at least he is still around. But Caravaggio has been dead for well over the seventy years detailed in my understanding of law. Ok, the photographs mentioned in the main article would be copyright but would the original drawings?

Yesterday, at the recommendation of Down by the Dougie, I visited Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House near Windermere. (Trivia Question. How many lakes are there in the Lake District? Answer at the end.) The sign stating that no photography was allowed in the house was justified on the basis of copyright of items on loan. Most of the items were about a hundred years old so maybe the originators were dead less than seventy years. I was obliged to fork out £7.50 for the guide book to get photographs of the inside. (Keep quiet, cynical side!) At a similar house in the Midlands which I visited some months ago, they said that the copyright of some of the William Morris designs and colourways were owned by a commercial company. (Answer to Trivia Question: One, Bassenthwaite Lake. The rest are tarns, waters, meres etc. Bassenthwaite is the only one called a lake.)

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About notes to the milkman

I'm a printmaker based in the North West of England, living in Bolton and printing at Hot Bed Press in Salford. Please visit my website johnpindararts.weebly.com
This entry was posted in Art, Artists, Drawing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to 100 New Caravaggios – An Update

  1. In the UK, an art work remains in copyright for 70 years after the death of the artist (presumably to benefit their surviving relatives). The only copyright that could have been infringed with the Caravaggio works would be that of the photographer, (assuming that the terms of their employment means they get to hold onto their copyright).

  2. Great post by the way.

  3. clinock says:

    Brilliant post John – especially the Pythonesque spoof bit – thanks…

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