MADRID (Reuters) - A last-minute intervention by Spain's Culture Ministry has prevented a painting it believes could be the work of Italian master Caravaggio from going on the auction block in Madrid on Thursday.
Auction house Ansorena said it had withdrawn the painting identified as "The Crown of Thorns", with a starting price of just 1,500 euros ($1,785) from sale, after the ministry told it on Wednesday the work could not be exported and experts were studying its provenance.
Currently attributed to an artist belonging to the circle of 17th century Spanish painter Jose de Ribera, the oil painting depicts an agonized Christ, blood dripping from his crown of thorns.
"Let's see if it is a Caravaggio, or was painted by a follower of Ribera, as previously attributed," Culture Minister Jose Manuel Rodriguez Uribes told reporters.
"Anyway, the decision (to ban export) was right because the painting is valuable," he added. The ministry intervened after some experts expressed doubts about the attribution.
Now Spanish authorities have to determine if the Italian baroque painter, who died in 1610 in his late 30s after a turbulent life, is the real painter. Caravaggio was a master of using the chiaroscuro technique of lighting to make his subjects seem to come alive.
Very few of his works, which are worth millions, are in private collections.
($1 = 0.8401 euro)
(Reporting by Emma Pinedo and Cristina Galan; editing by Andrei Khalip and Jonathan Oatis)