ROME – Italy’s art police said Tuesday they had foiled a potential illegal sale to a Viennese auction house of a 17th-century painting by Artemisia Gentileschi, a famous Baroque painter.
Carabinieri police said the art dealers allegedly described the work as written by a follower of Gentileschi, rather than by the artist herself, in order to fraudulently obtain an export permit from Italian authorities.
Gentileschi was unusual in achieving success as a female artist in the male-dominated art world of her time. She is also a symbol of courageous women for testifying, even under torture, against the man who raped her in her bedroom when she was a teenager.
“The painting was on the verge of being sold at auction,” Carabinieri Lt. Col. Alfio Gulotta told Italian state television in Bari, Italy, where the returned “Caritas Romana” (Roman Charity) masterpiece was shown to reporters.
Gentileschi’s early work, with strikingly dark areas of her canvases contrasting with light subjects, reflects the influence of the Baroque giant Caravaggio.
Some of her works offer a gory vision of biblical or mythological stories, many of them dedicated to the struggle of strong women. In some of her paintings, the subjects are women wielding knives, swords or spikes against men.
The police, who launched an investigation into the movement of the oil painting in 2020, said the criminal investigation was in its early stages.
Authorities said the artwork is worth at least 2 million euros ($2 million). It was commissioned by a nobleman in Apulia in the middle of the 17th century.
Italian authorities have said they suspect the intermediaries, using an intermediary in Tuscany, sought to sell the painting abroad and deliberately neglected to provide historical documentation of the work’s true provenance.
The specialist art squad includes police officers who regularly scour auction catalogs and online bids for descriptions or images of any works of art or antiquities that have either been stolen or are at risk of being smuggled out of Italy.
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