The painting discovered in a French attic in 2014 was sold to private buyers two days before a hotly awaited auction. The anonymity of the buyers is the latest secret surrounding the mysterious painting.
French auction magazine La Gazette Drouot wrote on Tuesday that a Caravaggio famously found in a Toulouse attic had been sold to a private buyer two days before a much-anticipated auction was due to take place.
The magazine wrote that the sensational artwork went to a "foreign buyer" who has "promised to present the painting to a major museum" and speculated that it was sold for between $100 million and $150 million (€88-132 million).
The sale is just one more secretive chapter in the story of a painting shrouded in mystery. The painting depicts the biblical story of Jewish heroine Judith beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes, thus stopping him from destroying the Jewish city of Bethulia.
It was found, covered in dust, in a home in the southern French city of Toulouse. The owners have requested anonymity since the discovery in 2014.
The painting was brought to the studio of auctioneer Marc Labarbe, and the Paris-based firm Turquin has had the work meticulously authenticated. Their research has convinced many, but not everyone that it is indeed the work of Baroque Italian master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.
"This story is beautiful, and this story makes us dream," Labarbe told the Los Angeles Times. "But what really makes us dream is the painting. It really is a wonder. We are very lucky."
Obscurity and renown
Caravaggio was well-known in his time for his dramatic use of light and shading. He is generally credited with having invented the dramatic illumination style known as tenebrism and having a major influence on the development of Baroque painting.
Born in Milan in 1571, Caravaggio trained in his home city before moving on to Rome, where he was sentenced to death for allegedly murdering a man in a brawl. He fled to Naples, where he achieved renown before having to flee criminal charges once again.
Historians are unsure what exactly brought about his death at the age of only 38, but his rough and tumble lifestyle, as well as an examination of his body, have led many scholars to suggest that he may have died from wounds he sustained in a brawl shortly before his death.
After his death, however, Caravaggio's character was further assassinated by rival painters who wrote highly critical and influential stories about him, leading the painter's reputation to languish in obscurity for centuries before art historians in the early 20th century began highlighting his immense influence on Western art.
As a result of his long period of unpopularity, as well as the crammed and crowded nature of many attics in old European houses, new Caravaggios have been popping up in recent decades, some authentic and some of dubious provenance.