Prado Museum and Colnaghi announce the unveiling of Caravaggio’s Masterpiece Ecce Homo

Monday, May 6, 2024
Prado Museum and Colnaghi announce the unveiling of Caravaggio’s Masterpiece Ecce Homo

Museo Nacional del Prado and Colnaghi announce a nine-month loan of Caravaggio’s masterpiece Ecce Homo to the Spanish national museum in Madrid, on behalf of the painting’s new owner. The Prado Museum will unveil the work for a special solo display from 28 May until October 2024.

Painted by the great Italian artist around 1605-09 and believed to have once been part of the private collection of Phillip IV of Spain, the painting is one of around only 60 known works by Caravaggio in existence.

Since the Prado Museum alerted Spain’s Ministry of Culture of the relevance of the painting when it reemerged at Ansorena auction house in April 2021, attributed to a pupil of José de Ribera, the work has been under the custodianship of the art gallery Colnaghi, in collaboration with Filippo Benappi (Benappi Fine Art) and Andrea Lullo (Lullo Pampoulides). The painting was restored by specialist Andrea Cipriani and his team under the supervision of experts from the Comunidad de Madrid regional government. The results of this intricate process are featured in a comprehensive publication alongside texts by expert specialists including Keith Christiansen, Gianni Papi, Giuseppe Porzio and Maria Cristina Terzaghi, to be released alongside the unveiling.
Since its reappearance at auction three years ago, Ecce Homo has represented one of the greatest discoveries in the history of art, inspiring an unprecedented speed of consensus around its authentication. Following an in-depth diagnostic investigation by Claudio Falcucci, a nuclear engineer specialising in applying scientific techniques to the study and conservation of cultural heritage, restoration has been carried out in an informed and rigorous manner, allowing each decision to be based on an exhaustive assessment of the work’s constituent materials, their specific application processes, and the painting’s conservation history, reaffirming this initial attribution to the Italian master.
Specialist interpretation of the painting has been carried out by Maria Cristina Terzaghi (associate professor in History of Modern Art at University Roma Tre and member of the scientific committee of Museo di Capodimonte in Naples), Gianni Papi (art historian and author), Giuseppe Porzio (art history professor at the University of Naples) and Keith Christiansen (curator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art), with each author presenting different perspectives. Specifically: the circumstances of its discovery, the provenance, the stylistic, technical and iconographic aspects of the work, its critical fortune and the legacy left by the master in Naples. Four of the most authoritative experts on Caravaggio and Baroque painting, they all share the same passionate certainty: that Ecce Homo is a masterpiece by the Italian artist.

The expressive oil painting depicts the art historical motif of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate presenting Christ to the people, with the words "Ecce homo!" ("Behold the man"); one of the most dramatic moments of the Passion, recorded in the Gospel of John (19:5). The work is a powerful example of Caravaggio’s mastery of conception: a skilful composition presenting a three-dimensional and dynamic scene that is entirely innovative, yet within the confines of an established iconographic tradition.Caravaggio’s Ecce Homo (circa 1605-09) was possibly first mentioned in a written undertaking in Rome between the artist and the aristocrat Massimo Massimi, signed on 25 June 1605. It was then listed in the collection of Juan de Lezcano - secretary to Pedro Fernández de Castro, Spanish ambassador to Rome until 1616, and later viceroy to the court of Palermo, brother of Francisco de Castro, viceroy of Naples – in 1631. The work is then mentioned in the inventory drawn up at the time of the departure of García de Avellaneda y Haro Delgadillo’s wife to Madrid. Delgadillo was the second Count of Castrillo (1588 – 1670), and Viceroy in Naples from 1653 to 1659.
Ecce Homo was subsequently included in the private collection of Philip IV of Spain in 1664, then mentioned as being on display in the apartment of his son, Charles II, from 1701 until 1702.
In 1789, the work is listed as one exhibited at Real Casa del Palacio del Buen Retiro, until 1816 when it is documented at the Palacio de Buenavista, Madrid, in the collection of Manuel Godoy (1767 – 1851), the Secretary of State to Charles IV and a famous art collector. Following Godoy’s death, it was bequeathed to the Real Academia de San Fernando.
In 1821, Evaristo Pérez de Castro Méndez (1769 – 1849), the Spanish diplomat and honorary member of the Academia de San Fernando, received the Caravaggio in exchange for other paintings gifted to the fine arts academy. It has remained with the family until it changed ownership in 2024. Its rediscovery was followed by two years of intensive research and restoration.
A detailed authentication process led by the most authoritative specialists of Caravaggio and Baroque painting have shown the work is, without a doubt, a Caravaggio masterpiece.

Main Image :Michelangelo Merisi (known as Caravaggio), Ecce Homo, 1605-09. Oil on canvas, 111 x 86 cm. Image courtesy of private collection.

Stephanie Cime

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