In the latest development in an ongoing international scandal involving possibly forged Old Masters works, French customs officials have seized an alleged piece by Italian Mannerist Agnolo di Cosimo, aka Bronzino, that was on display in Paris. The painting, Saint Cosmas (ca. 1544), was on loan from the U.S.-based Alana Collection Masterpieces of Italian Painting to the Jacquemart André Museum for an exhibition that closed yesterday. Authorities notified museum staff that the work would be barred from export upon the show’s end.
The work has been linked to notorious French art dealer Giuliano Ruffini, who is under investigation for selling dozens of Old Master paintings, including several that have been deemed forgeries. Ruffini’s forgery ring, which he orchestrated with his son Mathieu and Italian painter Lino Frongia, has been estimated to have made upwards of $220 million in sales to auction houses and dealers in London, Paris, New York, and Milan. An arrest warrant was issued last spring for Ruffini and his son. Frongia has since been arrested.
The sales included an allegedly fake Frans Hals sold to a private collector from Seattle of $10 million, who Sotheby’s refunded after an analysis of the work. An alleged Lucas Cranach painting, Venus with a Veil (1531), was seized at an exhibition in the south of France in March by the same organization that runs the Jacquemart-André Art Museum, and a painting of Saint Jerome attributed to Lucas Cranach, which was sold by Sotheby’s in 2012 for $842,500, was later determined by the house to be a forgery. Sotheby’s subsequently filed suit against the painting’s consigner, Lionel de Saint Donat-Pourrières, alleging that he had refused to return his share of the sale’s profits (a U.S. court has since ruled in the auction house’s favor).
Saint Cosmas was bought in 2011 by Chilean billionaire Alvaro Saieh and his wife Ana Guzmán for their privately owned Alana Collection. The couple has amassed a large holdings of Italian art since the 1990s. At the Jacquemart-André Art Museum, Saint-Cosmas was exhibited beside Bronzino’s Portrait of Cosimo de’ Medici and a representative from the Alana Collection told the Art Newspaper that “both paintings were purchased on the English art market from dealers we trust who informed us of this provenance.” The museum has declined to comment on whether other works from the collection are under investigation.
Saint-Cosmas was exhibited for the first time in 2010 at a Bronzino retrospective at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence. Costamagna, who is an expert in Florentine painting, told investigators that he had personally authenticated the work before it was included in the retrospective. He has maintained that the work is an authentic Bronzino, citing the pentimenti, or visible alterations made by the artist during its creation, in the painting, though the curator said that there is “a series of forged Mannerist works [that] appeared on the market, copied from drawings or studies by the artists.”