The Royal Palace, the great beneficiary of the ‘new’ Caravaggio?

Salome with the Baptist's head Caravaggio

In the last few weeks I have been following very closely what is happening with the discovery of the supposed Ecce Homo by Caravaggio. You may know: a art piece that was attributed to the circle of Ribera and that was going to be auctioned with a derisory starting price of 1,500 euros in Ansorena, but that the Ministry of Culture decided to stop because of suspicions that it could be a Caravaggio. It is currently under investigation to determine the true authorship and all possibilities are open, including that of an imitator. But whatever the outcome, my opinion is that the great beneficiary of all this may be the Royal Palace, or rather, the future of the Royal Collections Museum of Madrid. Let me explain.

The discovery has generated a huge stir in the media. Reports on television, articles in newspapers, posts on social networks… And in all of them the scarcity of caravaggios in Spain and in the world is mentioned. For example, in our country there are only four (or five if we accept the disputed St. John the Baptist of the Cathedral of Toledo). That is one of the reasons why the change of authorship would also imply a drastic change in its economic valuation: it is said that 23 million euros were to be offered at the auction!

In addition, when talking about the vicissitudes of the painting itself, which belonged to the Viceroy of Naples when this territory was Spanish, the link it to the Salome with the Baptist’s head, which is part of the Royal Palace collection, as they have the same provenance. Important note: I emphasize the words “is part of” and do not use “is exhibited in the Royal Palace” (as it is usually said in these reports), since it has not been there for a few years now, but has been on tour in different exhibitions around the world, such as Rome.

In any case, all this media exposure has served for the Spanish public to discover Caravaggio, a figure who has not been given the importance he deserves here, but who in other countries is recognized (deservedly) as a ‘great of the greats’, especially in his homeland, Italy.

And why do I say that the Royal Collections Museum of Madrid could be the great beneficiary? Precisely because it will serve to highlight its Salome with the head of the Baptist, which will be exhibited in this new museum. Let us remember that this new museum, whose construction has already been completed, is in the phase of materializing its museographic proposal and is scheduled to be inaugurated soon. Patrimonio Nacional, the institution that manages the museum, intends to hang in its rooms a masterpiece of worldwide impact, which will serve as a hook to attract, on its own, numerous visitors. Unfortunately for the Prado Museum, the work that has always sounded for it is The Garden of Earthly Delights, by El Bosco, since it is on deposit at the Prado, being its real owner Patrimonio Nacional.

But what if it turns out that thanks to the tsunami generated by the ‘new’ Caravaggio, that great work of global impact may be the Salome with the Baptist’s head? In my opinion, it has everything that makes a painting by the Italian genius unique: technical mastery with his characteristic tenebrism and, let’s be honest, that gloomy atmosphere that impresses all and sundry. 

If Caravaggio continues to be on the crest of the wave in the coming months and Patrimonio Nacional knows how to play its cards, we may be facing that great painting that will sneak into tourist guides and art books published in all corners of the world. And it will bring quality tourism to Madrid, so let’s make the most of it!