Artwork in attic by Caravaggio

The work depicts Biblical heroine Judith beheading an Assyrian general.
The work depicts Biblical heroine Judith beheading an Assyrian general. PHOTO: REUTERS

Discovered when the home owners were checking out a leak, the painting is believed to be worth more than $180 million

PARIS • A painting found in the attic of a house in south-west France two years ago was attributed to the Italian master Caravaggio by private French experts, who hailed its discovery on Tuesday as a great event in the history of art.

The work, which depicts Biblical heroine Judith beheading an Assyrian general, was found by the owners of a house near Toulouse as they investigated a leak.

It could be worth €120 million (S$183.6 million), the Eric Turquin art expert agency said in a statement.

The painting is thought to have been painted in Rome in 1604-1605 by Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio, and is in exceptionally good condition, Mr Eric Turquin said, despite having been forgotten in the attic for probably more than 150 years.

"A painter is like us, he has tics, and you have all the tics of Caravaggio in this. Not all of them, but many of them - enough to be sure that this is the hand, this is the writing of this great artist," he told Reuters TV.

The owners of the painting had no idea they had it until they went to the top of the house to check a leak in the roof, Mr Turquin said.

"They had to go through the attic and break a door which they had never opened... They broke the door and behind it was that picture. It's really incredible," he said.

While other specialists have questioned its provenance, he got the backing of a top Caravaggio specialist, Mr Nicola Spinosa, former director of a prestigious Naples museum. In an expert assessment seen by Agence France- Presse, Mr Spinosa wrote: "One has to recognise the canvas in question as a true original of the Lombard master, almost certainly identifiable, even if we do not have any tangible or irrefutable proof."

Mr Turquin told reporters that Caravaggio may have painted the gruesome scene, which also features a haggard old lady with goiters, in Naples while he was on the run from a murder charge in Rome.

He had earlier painted a different version there, which now hangs in the National Gallery of Ancient Art in the Italian capital.

French authorities have put a bar on it leaving France, describing it in a decree as a painting of "great artistic value, that could be identified as a lost painting by Caravaggio".

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2016, with the headline 'Artwork in attic by Caravaggio'. Print Edition | Subscribe