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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 January 2006, 18:53 GMT
Delight at Caravaggio discovery
Caravaggio's Emmaus painting resembles a version in London

Art historians have spoken of their shock and delight after two paintings discovered in a French church were found to be by old master Caravaggio.

Pilgrimage of Our Lord to Emmaus and Saint Thomas Putting his Finger on Christ's Wound have hung in the town of Loches for nearly two centuries.

"This kind of thing happens once in a lifetime," said one specialist.

It is thought the paintings were probably bought by a French ambassador to Rome, and friend of Caravaggio.

The works were kept under the organ loft in the church of Saint Anthony in Loches, until in 1999 a curator expressed an interest in a coat of arms on the works.

It turned out to belong to Philippe de Bethune, a minister of France's King Henry IV, an enthusiastic art collector who befriended Caravaggio in Rome.


After seven years of investigation, the origin of the pictures has been confirmed.

Caravaggio specialist Jose Freches and the painter's Saint Thomas Putting his Finger on Christ's Wound
Jose Freches spent seven years authenticating Caravaggio's St Thomas

"When I walked into the room where the paintings were, I was completely shocked... It was very emotional," said Caravaggio specialist Jose Freches.

It is thought the paintings were probably half of a batch of four bought by Bethune, for which an inventory survives, kept in the national archive in Paris.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, a notorious brawler who fled from Rome after killing a rival in a duel, was born in about 1570 and was found dead on a beach in 1610.

He is one of the most highly regarded Italian masters, whose biblical scenes, in tight detail, and mastery of light and darkness are considered revolutionary.

Many versions

"A whole series of technical clues plus the pictorial quality of the works were enough to convince me without any doubt that these are originals," said Mr Freches.

"Scientific tests have shown that the linen canvasses are identical to those used by Caravaggio, and the same goes for the pigments," he told the French AFP news agency

The pictures are similar to other Caravaggios in London and Potsdam.

"But they are not exact copies... We know that Caravaggio did many versions of his pictures," he said.

The paintings will be kept in Loches in the Loire Valley, where they will go on display later this year.

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