What happened to the hundred Caravaggio drawings?

A summary on the affair of the hundred alleged Caravaggio drawings, which caused much discussion in the summer of 2012.

It had been heralded as a huge discovery, by some it had even been called the discovery of the century: the famous (alleged) one hundred Caravaggio drawings, which were the art-historical “case” of the summer of 2012, and to which we at Windows on Art also devoted several pieces. Articles, press conferences, confirmations, denials: the art history world in July last year was in turmoil for several days. And then? Past the first few days, total silence. What happened to these alleged 100 Caravaggio drawings? In the major newspapers and even in the specialized press and websites, there was almost no mention of them. For those who may have missed something, we tell you how the events went after the discovery.

It was July 5 when the announcement of the "discovery"1 was made, but the response of the City of Milan was not long in coming: just four days later, on July 9, a committee of experts called precisely to study the PeterzanoFund2, the fund that according to the authors of the study, Maurizio Bernardelli Curuz and Adriana Conconi Fedrigolli, would contain the drawings of the young Caravaggio, met in Milan. The committee is made up of Maria Teresa Fiorio, Giulio Bora, Claudio Salsi and Francesca Rossi, and at the end of the preliminary meeting at the Castello Sforzesco, the conclusion is that the committee "reserves the right to consider with due time and rigor the attributional proposals put forward by the authors of the-book that recognizes in one hundred drawings of the Peterzano Fund the hand of Caravaggio."3

A few months pass and we arrive at December 2012: the response of the committee of experts takes the form of an exhibition that opens to the public on December 15 in the Sala del Tesoro of the Castello Sforzesco4. The exhibition is titled Simone Peterzano (ca.1535-1599) and the drawings of the Castello Sforzesco and exhibits a great many of the drawings in the collection, which Bernardelli Curuz and Conconi Fedrigolli asserted to be by Caravaggio (and according to some, Bernardelli Curuz and Conconi Fedrigolli did not even study the originals but conducted their studies on low-quality reproductions)5. The exhibition’s scientific committee features the above-mentioned experts along with two other experts from abroad-Jonathan Bober, conservator of ancient prints at the National Gallery in Washington, and Hugo Chapman, conservator of Italian and French drawings from 1400 to 1800 at the British Museum in London.

The exhibition, as explained in Art Histories, displayed all but six of the “hundred drawings” for conservation reasons. The committee comes to the (obvious) conclusion that these are not works by Caravaggio: some of the drawings are autographs of Simone Peterzano, Caravaggio’s master, others were made by Peterzano’s workshop, still others by various workshops active between the 16th and 17th centuries, still others are copies, and finally one group are academic studies dating back to the 17th century.6 There is no trace whatsoever of Caravaggio, partly because, as is well known, there are no drawings that are attributable to Caravaggio, and therefore assigning drawings to him without having any matches is a very difficult matter7.

On December 15 itself, an article in Corriere dellaSera8 contained Bernardelli Curuz’s reactions to the exhibition that had just opened at Castello Sforzesco: the artistic director of Brescia Musei declared that he had not seen the exhibition and that he and his colleague had not been invited to the opening. In addition, he declared that “the Peterzano exhibition is a biased exhibition, a harangue, a defense of the research of Bora and his circle.” The sequel then is of the less sympathetic kind, as the account of the research turns into a judicial chronicle: the City of Milan decides to file a defamation lawsuit against the authors of the discovery, demanding compensation for image damages9. For his part, Bernardelli Curuz declares that he is ready to counterattack10. For the time being, this is where the affair ends.

This is the account of the facts, which leads one to reflect on a particular aspect of the issue, which concerns the way art history is viewed in the mass media. On the day of the scoop, we saw the news published on the front pages of virtually all national newspapers, and we saw numerous reports in various news editions, also nationwide, on major television stations. In contrast, the search for articles about the studies of the committee of experts or even simply about the organization of the exhibition on the drawings of the Peterzano fund at the Castello Sforzesco has been rather difficult. It is a sign that for the mass media, it is still the sensationalism of the “great discoveries,” of the “discoveries of the century” that is the motive for them to talk about art history. It would have been equally interesting to see the same fervor in announcing the scientific committee’s counter-response to the theses of Bernardelli Curuz and Conconi Fedrigolli (a counter-response toward which we at Windows on Art also lean, who, after all, were among the first to raise doubts about the discovery, with an article published on July 6). But as long as art history is seen as mere entertainment, we will probably continue to witness situations of this kind from the press.


1. Caravaggio: scholars, 100 drawings found, from ANSA, July 5, 2012, 7:50 p.m.
2. A day of study on the Peterzano fund and a rigorous analysis of the attribution of 100 drawings to Caravaggio, from City of Milan website, July 9, 2012
3. Ibid.
4. Peterzano and the Castello Sforzesco drawings, from the Milan City Council website, July 14, 2012 ↑ ↑
5. Cf. Matteo sacchi, “Those scholars we never saw ... ”, from Il Giornale, July 6, 2012.
6. Cf. Benedetta Spadaccini, The “100 drawings” of Castello Sforzesco: an exhibition-study, from Storie dell’Arte, January 8, 2013.
7. Cf. How to attribute a drawing (by Caravaggio and otherwise): interview with Francesca Cappelletti, from Windows on Art, July 14, 2012.
8. Alessandra Troncana, In exhibition at Castello sforzesco the hundred drawings of discord, from Corriere della Sera, December 15, 2012.
9. Alessandra Troncana, “Caravaggio? A fake.” The municipality seeks damages, from Corriere della Sera, February 2, 2013.
10. Alessandra Troncana, Caravaggio disputed, scholars’ counter-claim, from Corriere della Sera, February 22, 2013.

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