July 11, 2012

Amazon pulls controversial Caravaggio book


Caravaggio's Medusa (detail)

The bad-boy painter of the Italian Baroque has stirred up trouble again.

As a report  from the Daily Telegraph explains, “A controversial new book in which two Italian art historians claim to have discovered 100 previously unknown Caravaggios has been withdrawn from sale, amid growing doubts over its reliability.”

Young Caravaggio – One hundred rediscovered works, by art historians Maurizio Bernardelli Curuz and Adriana Conconi Fedrigolli, has been pulled from the Amazon.it website, having just gone on sale days ago. The book is said to contain 1,000 images of Caravaggio’s work, including 100 previously unrecognized sketches and drawings by the Baroque master. (The report does not clarify, but it appears the publication was ebook only.)

The author’s claim they discovered the works while studying a collection that came from the studio of Simone Peterzano, a Milanese artist under whom Caravaggio apprenticed from 1584 to 1588—a collection housed in the archive of Castello Sforzesco, a castle in Milan.

However the announcement of their discovery last week was met with great skepticism in the art world. “The drawings have always been there, and have never yet been attributed to Caravaggio,” Elena Conenna, spokeswoman for culture for the city of Milan, which owns the castle and the collection, told the Telegraph.

And Maria Teresa Fiorio, the former director of the castle’s collection, told the Telegraph last week that she was “perplexed” by the claims made in the book: “A serious scholar doesn’t produce an e-book – they would publish their findings in the appropriate journals. Everyone who has studied the collection has asked themselves – is it possible that some were drawn by Caravaggio? No one has drawn that conclusion.”

The timing of the historian’s announcement received worldwide attention, and was serendipitous with their publication date. It is unclear whether Amazon removed the book from sale because of the questions surrounding the veracity of the material, or for other, unstated, reasons. The Telegraph reported: “A spokesman for Amazon in Italy confirmed that the book was no longer on sale but declined to comment on whether the book had been withdrawn because of doubts over the calibre of the research.”

The authors remain undeterred. According to the Telegraph:

The authors of the book said it would instead be available for sale on lulu.com, a website for self-published books. They said they did not know why their book had been dropped by Amazon.

“The jamming of the Amazon system has damaged us because to understand the discovery it is essential to see the 1,000 images that we have collated,” Mr Bernardelli Curuz told Ansa, the Italian news agency.


Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.