A portrait of Saint Augustine in a private British collection has been identified as the work of the Italian master Caravaggio, with art historian and dealer Clovis Whitfield making a persuasive case by locating documentary evidence to support the identification.
According to the Guardian, Whitfield managed to trace the painting to one of Caravaggio's most powerful patrons, Vincenzo Guistiniani, by discovering that a portrait of Saint Augustine of similar dimensions was recorded in the 1638 inventory of his collection. The painting, produced around the year 1600, is now attributed to Caravaggio in "Caravaggio and His Followers in Rome," an exhibition on view at the National Gallery of Canada through September 11, and will appear in a book with the same title to be published by Yale University Press.
"What looked like an anonymous 17th-century painting revealed its artistic qualities after restoration," Sebastian Schütze, an art historian who is one of the book's co-authors, told the Guardian. David Franklin, co-author and director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, noted that the portrait "shows a side of Caravaggio perhaps that is not as drastic and antagonistic as usual, but where he was working very closely with Giustiniani to try to create a much more quiet image of a saint." Indeed, Caravaggio, who was known for his violent escapades, as revealed in detail by the recent discovery of his police file, was not a man naturally given to quiet reflection and contemplation.
Fewer than 50 of Caravaggio's works survive. According to the Telegraph, some have questioned whether the Saint Augustine portrait is really by Caravaggio, citing factors such as the unfamiliar use of color. A year ago, the Vatican rushed to identify "The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence" as a previously undiscovered Caravaggio work, but Vatican Museums head Antonio Paolucci disputed the claim.