Judith and Holofernes could just as easily have been discovered a decade earlier, when its present owners—a family that has chosen to remain anonymous through this process, but has roots in Toulouse dating back to the 19th century—noticed their roof was leaking, and water was running into their attic. Nobody noticed the nearly 6-foot-wide painting the water had leaked onto, which was propped up against a wall behind some old mattresses and box springs.
The painting might also have been discovered two years later, when thieves ransacked the attic of valuables, but missed its biggest treasure. “If those thieves should ever read these lines,” Labarbe wrote in his catalogue introduction, “they can rest assured that no single eye, while preoccupied all at once by the crime, the darkness and the clutter, could have possibly noticed a painting by a master.”
Finally, the owners came across the massive, murky painting while clearing out the attic of their house, which has been in their family since 1871. They called in Labarbe, who in turn alerted Turquin; after three months of analysis by the dealer and his team in Paris, the verdict came back. Caravaggio. Since then, the painting has undergone cleaning and conservation to repair water damage and remove the varnish that blurred the composition’s crisp details. Caravaggio experts were brought in, so that by the time the discovery was made public in 2016, authorities—including the former director of the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples, Nicola Spinosa—had signed off on the Caravaggio attribution.