Italian police thwart illegal sale of Artemisia Gentileschi painting

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The Guardian

Italian police have said they prevented the potential illegal sale by a Viennese auction house of a 17th-century painting by the baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi.

The carabinieri art squad said dealers had allegedly described the work as being painted by a follower of Gentileschi, and not the artist herself, in order to fraudulently obtain export permission from Italian authorities.

Gentileschi was unusual for achieving success as a female painter in the male-dominated art world of her time, and has become a symbol of courageous women for testifying, despite being tortured, against a man who raped her when she was 17 years old.

“The painting was on the verge of being auctioned,” Lt Col Alfio Gullotta told Italian state TV in Bari, where the returned masterpiece, Caritas Romana (Roman Charity), was shown to reporters.

Gentileschi’s early work, in which strikingly dark sections of the canvases contrast with her illuminated subjects, reflects influences by the painter Caravaggio.

Several of her works offer a bloody vision of biblical and mythological stories, many of them focused on the struggle of strong women. In some of her paintings, the subjects are women wielding knives, swords or spikes against men.

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A criminal investigation is in its early stages, said the carabinieri, who started looking into the oil painting’s movements in 2020.

Authorities said the artwork was worth at least €2m (£1.7m). It was commissioned by a nobleman in Puglia in the mid-17th century.

Italian authorities said they suspected that the go-betweens, using an intermediary based in Tuscany, aimed to have the painting sold abroad, and deliberately neglected to supply historic documentation about the work’s real origins.

The specialised art squad includes police officers who regularly pore over auction catalogues and online offerings, on the lookout for descriptions or images of any artworks or antiquities that have either been stolen or are at risk of being illegally exported from Italy.

July 19, 2022 at 07:56PM Associated Press in Rome

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