Carabinieri seize Artemisia

July 21 2022

Image of Carabinieri seize Artemisia

Picture: Carabinieri TP

The Italian Carabinieri's specialist art unit, the TPC, have seized a painting by Artemisia Gentileschi, which they say was exported illegally from Italy. The painting, Caritas Romana, or Cimon and Pero, was due to be sold at auction at Dorotheum in Vienna, and had been exported in 2019. It has now been returned to Italy, pending further investigation, after the intervention of Eurojust.

The Carabinieri allege the export process was illegal, through the owners 'concealing the painting's identity and value' on the export application. The owners, however, have issued a statement denying this.

The painting has long been known as a Gentileschi (in 2018 it was even on a poster for an exhibition in Italy, which gained media attention after it was censored by Facebook). So this cannot be a case of a newly discovered Artemisia (as so many are), where the attribution was only discovered after it had been exported. On the face of it, getting a well known painting by Artemisia exported by pretending it isn't by Artemisia, and then swiftly selling it publicly at auction as an Artemisia in neighbouring Austria sounds like a spectacularly dim thing to do. It appears from what I can glean in the Italian press that the information deemed incorrect on the export application was instead about its value, put at €200k, and provenance.

In The Art Newspaper, the Gentileschi scholar Ricardo Lattuada places blame on the export licensing office in Genoa, which issued the paperwork in 2019:

Lattuada argues that it is the state's fault for allowing the work to leave the country in the first place, arguing that the culture ministry's underfunding and inexpertise is partly responsible. “The Carabinieri TPC does fine work in recovering works like these,” Lattuada said. “But it would be better if such huge errors did not happen in the first place.”

Anyone who has ever tried to export a painting from Italy will know what a lengthy process it is; pictures have to be physically inspected by a qualified expert (I believe a local museum curator) before a licence is granted. Meanwhile, La Repubblica has a story wondering if another Artemisia sold at Dorotheum, Lucrezia, was also incorrectly exported from Italy.

Update - a reader writes:

The Artemisia thing is slightly strange.

Although it has been exhibited in Italy, it is by no means universally accepted [as by Gentileschi], and has not I think been exhibited anywhere else. It is clearly painted in Naples where you get this collaboration/copying going on, especially with Palumbo, Cavallino. To me it looks quite Cavallino like.

So given that I’m not sure the €200k figure is too far wrong, as a possible/maybe.

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