Discovered in a Toulouse attic in 2014, Caravaggio's Judith beheading Holofernes (c. 1607) will be exhibited at Adam Williams Fine Art from May 10-17 before going under the hammer in Toulouse on June 27th. The masterpiece will be offered with no reserve, but bidding will begin at $35 million.

Judith beheading Holofernes, Caravaggio. 1607, oil on canvas. Judith beheading Holofernes, Caravaggio. 1607, oil on canvas.

The gallery, located on New York's Upper East Side at 24 East 80th Street, specializes in ancient and 17th century paintings. After it is shown in New York, the painting will be exhibited in Toulouse from June 17-23 before the sale.

Adam Williams Fine Art, New York, where the painting will be on view from May 10-17. Image: Adam Williams Fine Art Adam Williams Fine Art, New York, where the painting will be on view from May 10-17. Image: Adam Williams Fine Art

The Caravaggio unveiling coincides with the week of modern and contemporary auctions at Christie's and Sotheby's. Appropriately so, Caravaggio has been referred to as one of the most modern "Old Masters," whose famous command of light, shadow and narrative scenes was decidedly ahead of his time.

Judith beheading Holofernes, Caravaggio. 1598, oil on canvas. Image: WikiCommons Judith beheading Holofernes, Caravaggio. 1598, oil on canvas. Image: WikiCommons

Judith decapitating Holofernes was Caravaggio's second representation of the historical event (the c. 1598 version has been in the collection of the National Gallery of Ancient Art in Rome since the 1950s.) The narrative scene comes from the Apocrypha's Book of Judith, which was particularly depicted in European painting during the 17th century. Holofernes, an Assyrian general about to wage war against the city of Bethulia, holds a wine party and drinks excessively. Later, he is joined in his tent by a Bethulian woman, Judith, who decapitates him and gives Holofernes' head to her maid.

The work was painted in 1607 in Naples, where Caravaggio transplanted after he was banished from Rome for killing a man. This Neapolitan period signals a shift in Caravaggio's work, which became darker as his career was on the descent. The painting was offered to the Duke of Mantua, but the cost was likely too high. It was then acquired by Louis Finson, a Flemish dealer and imitator of Caravaggio's work, who willed it in 1617 to Abraham Vinck, another Flemish painter who lived in Naples. However, the exact whereabouts of the painting after this are unknown.

Old Master's expert Eric Turquin (left) and Toulouse auctioneer Marc Labarbe in front of the painting. Image: Turquin Old Master's expert Eric Turquin (left) and Toulouse auctioneer Marc Labarbe in front of the painting. Image: Turquin

Due to its murky provenance, the dramatic work has been mired by questions of authenticity and the possibility it was painted by Louis Finson. Old Masters painting expert Eric Turquin, who studied the work for five years, cites a variety of reasons supported by scientific analysis that it is a true Caravaggio. Tests revealed that the same type of canvas was used here as Caravaggio's other works during his stint in Naples and the paint, which contains large amounts of calcium carbonate, was also used in his works of the same time. Furthermore, the painting's composition was characteristic of Caravaggio's process and technique, including details such as incised lines along the limbs, black contoured outlines of the figures, the a risparmio technique found in the shadows of Judith and Holofernes' faces and pentimenti, traces of modifications under the surface that prove that it is an original work and not a copy.

However, before the scientific results were in, Turquin was already convinced, stating, "The face of Judith so overwhelmed me that I never once had a moment of doubt. The incredible strength of her expression, the sensuality of her mouth, the energy of her movement, the opulence of the red curtain that works as a backdrop to the murder scene could only belong to the greatest of all painters, Caravaggio."

This attribution has been supported by major Caravaggio specialists such as Keith Christiansen from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nicola Spinosa, Rossella Vodret, John Gash and David Stone.

The June 27th sale in Toulouse is one of the year's most eagerly awaited auctions, where Caravaggio's rediscovered work could join the ranks of the most expensive paintings ever sold. It is also an extremely rare opportunity to own a work by the Baroque master: of Caravaggio's 65 paintings across the globe, only 5 are in private collections, mostly in Italy and cannot be exported.

In anticipation of the auction, a website was created for the painting, The Toulouse Caravaggio, which features information about the whole discovery, videos from the world's foremost Caravaggio and Old Masters experts about the process of verifying the painting, a detailed breakdown of the scientific analysis and auction details. Visit the site here to learn more about the masterpiece.

For those in New York, don't miss the experience of seeing one of Caravaggio's greatest rediscovered masterpieces at Adam Williams Fine Art between May 10-17.

The paperback auction catalogue is available to purchase for 35 euros ($40) plus a delivery fee by contacting contact@marclabarbe.com.

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