ROME (AP) — Two Italian art historians claim to have discovered as many as 100 works, most of them drawings, by a very young Caravaggio in a collection long attributed to a master Milanese artist he studied under while a boy in the late 1500s.
It was not possible to immediately evaluate the claim Thursday by Maurizio Bernardelli Curuz and Adriana Conconi Fedrigolli on the eve of the publication of two ebooks laying out their case.
But one expert familiar with the collection said it was unlikely that more than a few at most were actually done by Caravaggio and that none show the mature hand of the temperamental artist — who was famed for his dramatic chiaroscuro effect of dark space contrasting with light, vivid still life and the then-scandalous use of models from the lower walks of life for religious scenes.
The works were culled from the collection of Simone Peterzano, whose many pupils included Caravaggio from 1584 to 1588.
The Peterzano collection, which is kept in Sforzesco Castle, a Milan landmark, contains nearly 1,400 works. Bernardelli, in brief remarks to The Associated Press, said that until now experts had considered the collection to contain only works by Peterzano.
"Evidently no one entertained the hypothesis that there were works" of his pupils, including future star artist Caravaggio, among the drawings, Bernardelli said.
Neither Conconi Fedrigolli nor Bernardelli returned calls for further comment after a first conversation by cell phone was terminated because of poor reception.
The Italian news agency ANSA said the two spent two years poring through the collection. They used a computer to study similarities between details in some of the art school drawings with details in paintings by Caravaggio decades later. A website promoting the ebook says 83 of these drawings contain details strikingly similar to those in works of the mature artist.
Claudio Strinati, a prominent expert in 16th-century art, said in a phone interview that the claim that some 100 works in the collection were actually done by Caravaggio, born in 1573 as Michelangelo Merisi, was "completely absurd."
"If you consider that Peterzano had so many pupils, there were probably 50,000 drawings," most of them likely thrown away, Strinati said. "No one knows which were done by the pupils."
Strinati said he is familiar with the Peterzano colletion, which belongs to the city of Milan. He described the drawings as "exercises of no artistic importance"
"In the best of hypotheses maybe some were done by Michelangelo Merisi but none by Caravaggio," the mature artist of the celebrated paintings. "I consider this research to be interesting, but not important," said Strinati, while stressing that both art historians had serious reputations.
Caravaggio's name as an artist came from Caravaggio, his birth town.