Sale 18875
Old Masters Paintings & Sculpture
Online 9 - 30 July 2020

The present painting is one of a series of comparable paintings on canvas of the same subject that are believed to be based on a lost creation by Caravaggio. In 2014 Gianni Papi identified a version in a private collection in Cittadella that he proposed was Caravaggio’s original autograph version (G. Papi, ‘Investigación: un original encontrado de Caravaggio’, Ars Magazine, no. 24, Oct.-Dec. 2004, pp. 107-116).

Papi argued that the Ecce Homo at Cittadella is a youthful work by Caravaggio of circa 1594-5 with such striking typological and compositional similarities to his Boy with a Basket of Fruit (Borghese Gallery, Rome, ibid., p. 111) that they may have been painted consecutively.

The idea that Caravaggio created a version of this type was first proposed by Roberto Longhi in 1954, when he published an early copy in a private collection, Italy (sold Dorotheum, 6 June 2020, lot 64), which he considered a variation of Caravaggio’s Ecce Home in Palazzo Bianco, Genoa, painted circa 1605-6 (R. Longhi, 'L’Ecce Homo del Caravaggio a Genova', Paragone, V, 1954, S. 9, abb. 13a). Since that publication five other versions of the composition, including the present lot, have come to light, discussed by Papi, of which the present version and a version at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (inv. No. 5665) are arguably the finest.

Several of these versions have been subsequently attributed to Mario Minniti (1577-1640), a Sicilian painter, friend and collaborator of Caravaggio’s, including the example in the Kunsthistorisches Museum. This is based on another representation of Ecce Homo signed by Minniti and dated 1625 in the Museo della Mdina Cathedral, Malta (D. Spagnolo, in Mario Minniti. L'eredità di Caravaggio a Siracusa, exh. cat., ed. by V. Greco, G. Grado, V. Abbate, Naples, 2004, cat. no. 17, p. 96), although the attribution has not received the unanimous agreement of the scholarly community.

Out of all the early copies, the present version is particularly succinct in the transitions between light and shade, and there are several important details, such as the presence of blood on Christ’s forehead dripping down onto his right shoulder, that mark it out over the other examples, bar the version in Kunsthistorisches Museum, which is seemingly of comparable quality to the present lot and which first entered the Imperial collection in Vienna in 1773.

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