The Italian Almanac

The Card Sharps by Caravaggio

The Card Sharps in Trapani

A Caravaggio show in Sicily is set to become one of the most popular exhibits ever in southern Italy, the latest figures suggest. The exhibition, which showcases 15 works by the 17th-century master, has drawn more than 12,000 visitors in the month since it opened. Some 1,400 people visited the event in its first two weeks alone - a record for exhibits on older art.

The exhibition, which marks 400 years since Caravaggio's stay in Sicily, opened on December 15 and runs until March 14 in the Pepoli Museum.It features a number of Caravaggio greats on loan from public and private collections around the world. Entitled 'Caravaggio. L'Immagine del Divino' (Caravaggio. The Image of the Divine), it focuses mainly on religious subjects, unlike the artist's earlier, more worldly paintings.

The star of the event in the western Sicilian city of Trapani is a replica of his renowned masterpiece The Card Sharps ('I Bari'). The painting was recently rediscovered by British art historian Sir Denis Mahon, who spotted the grimy painting for sale in an auction catalogue in London, where it was described as the work of a Caravaggio follower. Mahon, one of the world's top Caravaggio experts, bought the painting for 50,000 pounds. After cleaning it, he established it was the work of the master himself, since confirmed by X-ray tests and other Caravaggio scholars.

Experts agree it was probably a first version of The Card Sharps. That work, worth some $50 million, is in the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.