‘Sopranos’ Actor Discovers $10 Million Guercino

Ordinarily dueling experts have agreed: The painting is the real deal.

Guercino Portrait of St. Sebastian (circa 1630). Courtesy of the Federico Castelluccio Collection.

Sopranos actor Federico Castelluccio now owns a painting that has been authenticated as a work by Italian baroque painter Giovanni Francesco Barbieri.

The painter, more commonly known as Guercino, a nickname he earned for his pronounced squint, was a master of chiaroscuro, or the treatment of light and shade, a talent which inspired comparisons to Caravaggio.

Castelluccio made his debut in the second season of the hit television show as Furio Giunta, an Italian mobster who works for Tony Soprano and has a taste for flashy shirts. But in real life, the actor is also a painter himself and an expert in baroque European art.

Castelluccio initially saw the work at a Frankfurt gallery (it had been erroneously identified as an “18th-century Italian holy painting of Saint Sebastian,” he told the New York Post). He subsequently picked it up at auction for somewhere in the range of $140,000, restoration and all, according to the Post. The work is estimated to be valued in the millions.

Federico Castelluccio and his St. Sebastian by Guercino. Photo courtesy of James Sliman.

Federico Castelluccio and his St. Sebastian by Guercino. Photo courtesy of James Sliman.

After diligently researching the work over the course of three or four years, he had it authenticated by two established experts in the field, David Stone at the University of Delaware and independent art historian Nicholas Turner, the former drawings curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum. The experts employed x-rays and chemical pigment testing and determined that the work was created around 1632–34.

“They don’t really agree on things normally,” said art dealer Robert Simon about Stone and Turner, “but they did about this. It is the real deal.”

Simon, a specialist in Italian Renaissance painting, would know something about discovered Old Master works. He was one of a consortium of owners of Salvator Mundi (ca. 1500), a painting later attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, which made news when it sold this past year at Sotheby’s in a private sale for reportedly upwards of $75 million.

Actor Federico Castelluccio

Actor Federico Castelluccio, who appeared in the Sopranos originally bought the Guercino for $140,000. Courtesy of Getty Images.

“They’re flying together”

When we spoke with Simon, he was at JFK International Airport in cargo at Alitalia awaiting a flight to Italy on which he was serving as courier for the very Guercino painting in question along with another painting of Saint Sebastian by Titian. “They’re flying together,” Simon said. In his role as courier, Simon has been entrusted with ensuring the paintings are handled properly. Both the Guercino and the Titian are scheduled to be in a show at the Fondazione Cosso’s Miradolo Castle opening October 5 and featuring paintings of Saint Sebastian by various artists from the 15th to the 17th centuries.

Simon said that he had known the painting for a couple of years and had known it “before it was clean.” “[Castelluccio] had bought a few baroque paintings from me,” he said, noting that the actor is a very good painter in his own right. “He brought it in for advice, and I remember once he came to me with his research, with other treatments of Saint Sebastian by Guercino. He made a very professional study of it.”

While Simon wouldn’t discuss numbers, he noted that the painting was created in Guercino’s maturity— “a very good period,” he said. A look at Guercino’s market might shed some light on its value.

As far as the market for Guercino, the most paid for one of his paintings at auction was 5,193,250 in British pounds sterling, or $7,864,747, for King David (1651), at Christie’s London in July 2010. That was well within its estimate. That same year, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, purchased a Guercino, Christ and the Woman of Samaria (circa 1619–20), from a private European collection. The painting had been considered lost until then. While the price wasn’t revealed, it was speculated that it sold for over $10 million. Castelluccio’s painting could achieve a similar amount if sold.

Castelluccio could not be reached for comment.

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