ROME Italian art experts say they have discovered about 100 previously unknown sketches and paintings by Caravaggio, the Italian baroque painter whose realistic and dramatic canvases set a new standard for Western art.
Only some 90 paintings by Caravaggio, who died in 1610 in his late 30s after a turbulent life, and was a master of using the chiaroscuro technique of lighting to make his subjects seem to come alive, previously were known to exist.
Art historians Maurizio Bernardelli Curuz and Adriana Conconi Fedrigolli are publishing two e-books on Amazon in Italian detailing their research and attribution process for Caravaggio's early works.
Sketches make up the bulk but there are paintings as well. Most were found among the archives of mannerist artist Simone Peterzano in Milan's Sforzesco castle, according to an interview with the authors published by Ansa news agency on Thursday.
The authors could not be immediately reached for comment.
The total value of the artworks is about 700 million euros ($870 million), the art historians estimated. The works found in Peterzano's studio are owned by the city of Milan.
Caravaggio - whose real name was Michelangelo Merisi - studied under Peterzano from 1584 to 1588, and no paintings from his youth are known to have survived.
Other art historians immediately cast doubt on the authors' claims after seeing pictures of the sketches attributed to Caravaggio, cautioning that the research had yet to be verified.
"I will wait to consult the complete research, but the drawings I've seen so far do not seem to me attributable to Caravaggio," said Francesca Cappelletti, a researcher and author of a book on the Lombardy master.
"We must be very prudent," said Cristina Terzaghi, an art historian at the University of Rome III and author of a book on Caravaggio.
"These sketches were well known. I had myself seen them. Their research must be carefully studied and verified by the scientific community," Terzaghi said.
Caravaggio, who is considered the greatest Italian painter of his time, led a violent, chaotic life and died when he was just 38 years old.
He often ended up in jail, and killed a man in a fight in Rome. The Pope issued a death warrant for him, and he died on a beach south of Rome under mysterious circumstances after he had purportedly received a pardon.
($1 = 0.8077 euros)
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Michael Roddy)