HUGE FIND: Art expert Stephane Pinta shows an X-ray image of a painting titled Judith Beheading Holofernes. Photo: Reuters

LONDON: A painting found in a leaky French attic, worth about e120m (R1.9 billion), has been provisionally identified as a lost masterpiece by late 16th century Italian painter Caravaggio.

A French art expert said he believed that the bloody biblical scene was Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes, painted in the early 17th century and lost a century later. Eric Turquin admitted, however, that the authenticity of the unsigned painting would be disputed and might never be finally established. The large painting was discovered two years ago in a sealed attic in Toulouse, south-west France, when the houseowners were searching for the source of a leak in the roof.

“The very characteristic lighting, the energy typical of Caravaggio, executed without corrections by a confident hand, mean that this must be authentic,” Turquin said. “Just look at how the artist painted the fingernails, for instance, with just a little touch of white, never corrected, never revisited. That is the touch of a master, someone with real authority.”

Turquin’s opinion has received the written support of one of the greatest experts on Caravaggio (1571-1610). Nicolas Spinoza, former director of the Naples art gallery, said: “The canvas should be considered a true original work by the Lombard master, even if we have no tangible and irrefutable proof.”

Caravaggio (real name Michelangelo Merisi) is known to have painted two versions of the murder by decapitation of the Syrian general Holofernes by the Hebrew heroine Judith.

According to the Bible, the widow Judith agreed to go to the tent of the general who was besieging her city. She then cut off his head.

The original is believed to have vanished in the 18th century.

– The Independent