The Caravaggio in your attic

We’ve all done it! We’ve all come across a family heirloom, our eyes have glazed over for a few minutes, and that shabby old oil painting in a broken frame covered in dust is a priceless work of art by one of the world’s greatest painters.

It happened to a couple from Toulouse who’d bought and moved into an old house. While trying to find the source of a leaky roof in their attic they found an old painting wrapped in a blanket. The picture was discovered in a sealed-off part of the attic space, which had to be accessed in order to make the required repairs.

The painting, believed to be by Caravaggio is called “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” and represents the biblical figure decapitating an Assyrian general. According to the Book of Judith, included in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox scriptures, she went in supplication to the general’s tent while his forces besieged her city, then beheaded him.

France has slapped an export ban on the painting, which experts value at around 120m €. Some experts have said the painting is considered by far the most important canvas recovered in the last twenty years, from one of the true geniuses of art.

So, dreams do come true and people do come across unexpected windfalls worth vast amounts of money. In 2010, a 91-year-old French actress and socialite called Madame de Florian passed away in the south of France. Her family were shocked to discover she had a secret apartment in Paris in which she had lived before WW2 and had remained untouched for over 70 years.

Among many treasures, such as a stuffed ostrich and an original Disney Mickey Mouse doll, they found a painting of Madame de Florian’s grandmother Marthe. She was the muse of the famous 19th century artist Giovanni Boldini. The painting went to auction with an asking price of 253,000€ but sold for an incredible 2.1m.

In 1899, a painting of the Virgin Mary that was believed to be a respectable copy sold for $25. Now it seems it could be a genuine Raphael worth $26 million. The discovery was made by Bendor Grosvenor, an art historian and presenter of the BBC’s “Britain’s Lost Masterpieces”, while examining the collection at the National Trust for Scotland’s Haddo House in Aberdeenshire.

The painting is dated between 1505 and 1510 and had previously been attributed to the Italian artist Innocenzo da Imola.

Knowing the value of what you have can be difficult but these examples of hidden treasure are a life lesson to us all. Awareness of what we already have is vital. Value should not be measured in purely monetary terms. In business it is vital that the bottom line is the focus, but what about simple but highly effective working relationships? What about independence, confidentiality, security, speed of delivery, understanding of client requirements, willingness to try something new, flexibility and adaptability, and cost-effectiveness?

All of these criteria are important when determining the value you place on your administrators. At PEA, we may not be artists or covered in dust in an attic, but we are very good at what we do and more and more of our clients treasure our service and recognise the value we give them.


James Orrick holds a Masters in Corporate Governance from Bournemouth University, a BSc (Hons) in Accounting and Finance from the University of Essex, is a Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators.

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