By Jamie Wetherbe
July 6, 2012, 11:42 a.m.
Caravaggio, known for causing more than a few brawls in his day, has started another spat in the art world.
Italian art historians claim to have discovered as many as 100 student works by a young Caravaggio that, if proven to be authentic, could be worth $900 million.
The pieces have long been attributed to master Milanese artist Simone Peterzano, who taught in the late 1500s and whose pupils included Caravaggio, then known as Michelangelo Merisi.
Maurizio Bernardelli Curuz, the artistic director of the Brescia Museum Foundation, and his co-researcher, Adriana Conconi Fedrigolli, will soon publish a pair of ebooks supporting their case that the works are Caravaggio’s.
The historians spent two years combing through the Peterzano collection of 1,400 pieces, using computer software to find similarities between the art school drawings and Caravaggio’s more mature hand.
Francesca Rossi, curator of the collection, told the Associated Press on Friday that the pair never set foot in Milan’s landmark Sforzesco Castle, where the drawings are kept.
Curuz counters that the pair worked mainly from photographs and that they had “after-hours” access to the collection, although he didn’t explain from whom.
Critics claim that the estimate of 100 works could be steep and that none of the works in question demonstrates the vivid still life, contrast of light and dark or the scandalous religious themes for which Caravaggio is known.
Claudio Strinati, an expert in 16th-century art familiar with the Peterzano collection, described the drawings as “exercises of no artistic importance,” even if they were by Caravaggio.
“In the best of hypotheses maybe some were done by Michelangelo Merisi but none by Caravaggio,” he said. “If you consider that Peterzano had so many pupils, there were probably 50,000 drawings,” many thrown away, he added. “No one knows which were done by the pupils.”
Caravaggio died in 1610 in his late 30s; about 90 paintings by the artist are thought to exist.