A recently attributed Caravaggio painting of Judith decapitating Assyrian general Holofernes sold privately earlier this week before a scheduled auction on Thursday.
"Judith and Holofernes" depicts the dramatic Bible story of a Jewish heroine's efforts to save her people from the invading general. The scene was famously captured by Caravaggio in another version (Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica) and by many other artists. Joining 66 known Caravaggios, the current work was found in a French attic in 2014.
Local auctioneer Marc Labarbe had the work authenticated, exhibited in New York and London, and planned to sell it in his home city of Toulouse with an estimate of $115 to $170 million.
A mystery buyer swooped in and bought the work on Tuesday before it went under the gavel. While Labarbe would not disclose the buyer or the sale amount, he did confirm that the painting "will leave French soil." CNN reports that the buyer was "someone close to an important museum."
While some authorities have questioned the Caravaggio attribution, French art expert Eric Turquin, who announced the work's authenticity, wrote his decided opinion in the sale catalgoue: “The incredible strength of [Judith’s] expression, the sensuality of her mouth, the energy of her movement, the opulence of the red curtain that works as the backdrop to the murder scene could only belong to the greatest of all painters, Caravaggio.”