Vatican unveils 'new Caravaggio' – but art experts say it's an impostor

Art officials yesterday unveiled the painting at the centre of the latest Caravaggio mystery, after the Vatican newspaper first suggested – and then denied – that the canvas was the work of the Italian master.

"The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence" will now be subjected to X-rays and other analyses in order to ascertain its veracity. But art scholars attending the unveiling agreed the painting did not look like a Caravaggio.

"We can rule out – at least for now – that it's a Caravaggio," said art superintendent Rossella Vodret. "The quality of the painting doesn't hold up." The 183cm by 130.5cm painting was recently cleaned up and features the dramatic chiaroscuro typical of Caravaggio and his school. The painting will not be on public display.

The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, set the art world aflutter last week with a front-page article headlined "A New Caravaggio".

The article made clear that no certain attribution had been made. But the definitive-sounding headline and the fact that the claim was made on the day marking the 400th anniversary of the master's death had raised expectations. The Vatican has in the past announced such art-world news in L'Osservatore.

But on Monday, the newspaper reversed itself with an article by the Vatican's top art historian shooting down the claim. Under the front-page headline "A New Caravaggio? Not really", Vatican Museums chief Antonio Paolucci wrote that the work was not of Caravaggio's quality.

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