Italy: Is that Caravaggio hiding in that painting?

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ROME – It is the sort of intriguing, self-referential clue that author Dan Brown would have his hero, the cerebral “symbologist” Robert Langdon, chasing after in one of his bestselling books.

But the tiny self-portrait that Italian art historians believe they have found in an oil painting by Caravaggio is real.

The painting, “Bacchus,” was completed by the Renaissance master in 1597 and depicts the mythical god of wine. On a table in front of him is a carafe of dark red wine. So far, so ordinary – at least by the standards of 16th-century art.

But researchers have used an infrared technique called multispectral reflectography to “peer” through centuries of grime and added layers of paint and claim to have detected a miniature self-portrait. It shows a man, thought to be Caravaggio at the age of about 25, with dark curly hair, peeking out from inside the carafe.

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