The Vatican newspaper reported Saturday that a new Caravaggio painting may have been found in Rome, but cautioned that further analyses are required before it can be attributed for certain to the Italian master.
The front-page story in L'Osservatore Romano came out as Italy celebrates the 400th anniversary of Caravaggio's death. This weekend, churches and a gallery in Rome housing works by the painter will stay open overnight to mark the anniversary.
The painting in question depicts "The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence" and belongs to the Jesuits in Rome, the paper said. It did not say where the painting was being studied or who was examining it.
An image of the work published above the headline "A New Caravaggio" shows a semi-naked young man, his mouth open in desperation, one arm stretched out as he leans over amid flames.
"It is up to further analyses and an in-depth documentary, stylistic and critical examination to provide us with answers," L'Osservatore Romano said.
"What is certain is that the painting is stylistically impeccable," it said in the article, written by art historian Lydia Salviucci Insolera.
Caravaggio died in the Tuscan coast town of Porto Ercole in 1610 at age 39. He had been hugely influential and famous, but had also led a dissolute life of street brawls and alcohol.
Italy has been marking the anniversary with a variety of events, and an exhibit in Rome earlier this year drew over half a million visitors.
This weekend from dusk Saturday until Sunday morning, visitors can enter free at the Borghese Gallery, which houses such masterpieces as "David with the head of Goliath" and "Boy with a basket of fruit." Four additional paintings kept in other museums were moved to the Borghese Gallery for the all-nighter.
Three churches in the center of Rome — Santa Maria del Popolo, Sant'Agostino and San Luigi dei Francesi — will also keep their doors open. The churches are together home to another half-dozen Caravaggio paintings, including the "Crucifixion of St. Peter" in Santa Maria del Popolo.
In its article, L'Osservatore Romano pointed out that the "The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence" presented features typical of Caravaggio's style, such as the use of chiaroscuro for dramatic effect and the unique perspective from which the subject is seen. The report also highlighted similarities with other Caravaggio's paintings, for example in the saint's hand or body movement.
However, the newspaper also noted that no known document mentions St. Lawrence as a subject of Caravaggio's work.
Maurizio Marini, a leading Caravaggio scholar, concurred that St. Lawrence — a martyr burned to death during Roman persecutions in 258 — was not a known Caravaggio subject. Marini said the stylistic similarities are inconclusive and he expressed skepticism, saying that claims of new Caravaggios often surface but seldom hold up.
"In certain moments, such as Caravaggio's anniversaries, it's no surprise that a lot of paintings come one out that are supposedly Caravaggio's work," Marini told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Given Caravaggio's brief professional life, Marini said, there should not be a huge amount of unknown works — save for portraits.
"From our sources he appears to be a great portrait painter, but so far we only have found five or six of them," Marini said.
Caravaggio died in mysterious circumstances. Recently, a team of Italian researchers said they had identified Caravaggio's remains after a year of digging up bones in Porto Ercole and conducting carbon dating, DNA testing and other analyses.