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Lost masterpiece of Christ now on display: ‘One of the greatest discoveries in the history of art’

A painting by Italian master Caravaggio titled “Ecce Homo” is pictured at the Prado museum in Madrid, Spain, on May 27, 2024. / Credit: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 28, 2024 / 17:45 pm (CNA).

A lost masterpiece by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was recently rediscovered and is now on display in what experts are calling “one of the greatest discoveries in the history of art.”

Titled “Ecce Homo” (“Behold the Man”), the painting was created between 1605 and 1609 and depicts the moment Pontius Pilate presented the scourged Jesus Christ to the crowds ahead of his crucifixion.

According to the Museo del Prado, the renowned museum in Madrid, Spain, where the piece is being displayed, “Ecce Homo” is “one of the most valuable old master artworks in the world.”

Long believed by its previous private owners to be the work of a student of baroque artist José de Ribera, the painting resurfaced in 2021 when it was being sold for just $1,600 at an art auction in Madrid.

Shortly before it was set to be sold, art experts raised suspicions that it could be a Caravaggio. The Spanish Ministry of Culture intervened to stop the sale so that experts could investigate further.

According to the Museo del Prado, the painting underwent an in-depth diagnostic investigation led by Claudio Falcucci, a nuclear engineer famous for his scientific techniques in the study and conservation of significant cultural artifacts.

The painting then underwent a process of restoration. The Museo del Prado said that after intense study and restoration, the “four of the most authoritative experts on Caravaggio and Baroque painting” all “share the same passionate certainty: that ‘Ecce Homo’ is a masterpiece by the Italian artist.”

The painting is believed to have previously been a part of the private collection of Spanish and Portuguese King Philip IV and is one of just 60 known works by the famed Italian master. According to the BBC, it is valued at nearly $40 million.

Considered one of the most influential artists of the Baroque period, Caravaggio is known for his dramatic use of light and shadows and for depicting biblical and mythic scenes in emotion-filled, almost theatrical, fashion. Many of his paintings, such as “The Calling of Saint Matthew,” “Supper at Emmaus,” “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas,” and many others are some of the most recognized and beloved works of religious art to this day.  

“Ecce Homo” shows a scourged Christ in the center of the painting with Pilate and a soldier on either side of him. Christ is draped in a vivid crimson cloak and holds a scepter with a crown of thorns on his head. Despite bright red blood dripping from his crown, Jesus has a serene countenance while Pilate and the soldier have a look of alarm on their faces. The painting exhibits Caravaggio’s famous use of light and shadow while the clothing, skin, and hair in the painting showcase his mastery of texture.

The particular moment of the passion narrative portrayed by this painting holds a special significance for Catholics because Pilate’s “Ecce Homo” calls to mind John the Baptist’s proclamation in John 1:29: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

John’s proclamation is echoed by the priest when he elevates the holy Eucharist at one of the most crucial moments of the Mass.

The masterpiece is on loan with the Museo del Prado and will be on display from May 28 through Oct. 13. Tickets to the exhibit can be purchased on Museo del Prado’s website here.

The Museo del Prado also has another Caravaggio masterpiece, “David and Goliath,” on permanent display.

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