Italian authorities halt illegal sale of Gentileschi masterpiece

Italian police have thwarted the fraudulent sale in Austria of a painting by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656). A specialised task force, known as the Carabinieri Cultural Heritage Protection Unit, discovered the fraud by searching through auction catalogues and online offerings. As a genuine work by the most celebrated female artist of the Baroque period, the painting is valued at a staggering €2 million (£1.7 million).

The Carabinieri art squad said two art dealers had fraudulently obtained export permission from Italian authorities in 2019 by describing the painting as by a follower of Gentileschi, and not the artist herself. They consequently managed to acquire a certificate of free circulation, despite the painting’s extraordinary artistic value. Using an intermediary based in Tuscany, the dealers then tried to illegally sell the painting through a prestigious auction house in Vienna.

The painting was on the verge of being auctioned,” said Lieutenant Colonel Alfio Gullotta of the Carabinieri, who added that the criminal investigation is still in its early stages. The two people under investigation had also deliberately neglected to supply historic documentation on the work’s provenance, concealing the fact that it was historically preserved at Castello di Conversano and later Castello Marchione di Conversano.

The Carabinieri concluded in a statement that had the fraudulent sale not been exposed the painting “would thus have been definitively and irremediably removed from the national cultural heritage”. Authorities have been tracing the oil painting’s movements since 2020 before recovering the work in collaboration with Austrian police.

Caritas Romana’ (Roman Charity) was commissioned in the mid-seventeenth century by Count Giangirolamo II Acquaviva d’Aragona (1600 – 1665), a nobleman in Puglia. Gentileschi is considered among the most accomplished artists of the seventeenth century, having worked in Rome, Florence, Venice, Naples and London for renowned patrons. 

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