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Sale of Artemisia Gentileschi painting stopped by Italian police

After preventing its sale at the Vienna auction house Dorotheum, Italy has returned a “outstanding” painting by the female Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi to Bari, the city where it was created 400 years ago. Authorities revealed yesterday that the private owners of the art are under investigation for allegedly organizing its illegal shipment overseas during a press conference in the Puglise capital.

However, one of Italy’s foremost Gentileschi specialists, Riccardo Lattuada, has maintained that the artwork, which the auction house had estimated to be worth about €2 million, should never have left the country and has accused the government of “incompetence.” Lattuada contends that the government is to blame for initially allowing the work to leave the nation, citing the underfunding and inexperience of the culture ministry as contributing factors. 

The painting Caritas Romana was one of 500 paintings that Giangirolamo II Acquaviva d’Aragona, a Pugliese count descended from the Spanish kings of Southern Italy, commissioned in the middle of the 17th century. The collection was originally on exhibit at the Castello di Marchione. The artwork depicts the ancient Roman tale of Pero, who breastfed her imprisoned father Cimone in secret—a topic famously covered by both Rubens and Caravaggio in their respective works entitled The Seven Works of Mercy (around 1607).