The Telegraph reports that a portrait by Caravaggio of one of his mistresses has been duscovered.

Italian art experts believe they may have found a previously unknown portrait by Caravaggiothat depicts one of his young lovers, a high-class courtesan.

The painting, which depicts a young woman with dark hair and a piercing gaze, was found in a private collection and, if confirmed to be the work of Caravaggio, could be worth tens of millions of euros.

It bears remarkable similarities to a known Caravaggio painting called Portrait of a Courtesan, also known as Portrait of Fillide.

Fillide Melandroni was a high-class prostitute in Rome who was one of Caravaggio’s favourite models and probably his lover.

She was in and out of prison for various misdemeanours and renowned for her “scandalous” lifestyle, according to contemporary sources.

He even committed murder on her behalf – in 1600 he killed a man called Ranuccio Tomassoni, who may have been her pimp or her lover or both, during a fight that took place on a tennis court.

The brawl may have been over the sex worker. Caravaggio stabbed Tomassoni in the groin, causing him to bleed to death after his femoral artery was severed.

“Particular wounds in Roman street fights meant particular things. If a man insulted another man’s reputation, he might have his face cut. If a man insulted a man’s woman, he would get his penis cut off,” the British art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon has said of the violent encounter.

Painted between 1597 and 1599, the Portrait of Fillide was destroyed in an allied bombing raid on Berlin in 1945 and is now known only from photographs.

‘There are lots of clues’

The similar-looking picture, known as Portrait of a Young Woman, was found in a private collection by art historian Maria Cristina Terzaghi. 

If it was put up for auction, it could fetch €50-70 million (£44-61 million), according to La Repubblica.

“There are lots of clues” that the portrait could be the work of Caravaggio, Ms Terzaghi said.

The young woman’s eyes are very similar to the eyes of the boy who appears in Caravaggio’s celebrated painting The Lute Player, she said.

“The canvas, which will be restored, had been used before, as often happened with Caravaggio – beneath the layer of paint there is another face, perhaps the head of a saint,” Ms Terzaghi, a professor of art history and an expert on Caravaggio, told La Repubblica newspaper.

“The woman’s gaze shows an accentuated naturalism, which is rarely found in paintings at the time.

“The most interesting feature is the similarity with the Portrait of Fillide, which we know for sure was painted by Caravaggio. All of this leads one to think that the women in the painting are the same.”

The painting has just gone on display in Palazzo Barberini, a museum in Rome.

It is to be analysed carefully and then discussed by experts at a conference next week.

“Comparing the two portraits, there is a great similarity between the two women depicted, to the extent that it looks like they are the same person,” the museum says on its website.

Portrait of a Young Woman has an intriguing history. It was owned by the family of Pope Urban VIII and was mentioned in archive documents in 1644 and then again in 1672.

It was valued at the time at 80 scudi, a considerable sum which suggests it was by an artist who was held in high esteem.

It appeared in the records in 1844 and again in 1906, when it was described as being “of the school of Michelangelo.”

It is now in the hands of a family who want to remain anonymous.

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