Biscuit beetles find the painting of the master Caravaggio to their taste


CARAVAGGIO'S priceless The Taking of Christ has been removed from display in the National Gallery after beetles were discovered chewing through the relining canvas at the back of the painting. A spokesman for the gallery said the tiny creatures, identified as biscuit beetles, have a particular fondness for the glue used on the back of paintings.

The spokesman emphasised that no damage had been done to the surface of the painting. "It has been temporarily removed from display as a precaution," he said.

The gallery noticed an "infestation" on the painting some weeks ago.

The spokesman could not say why the beetles were attracted to the Caravaggio in particular, but one possible explanation is that the glue is fresher, as the painting was restored before going on public display in 1993.

Caravaggios never appear in art auctions so it is difficult to place a value on them. However, in the unlikely event of a sale, experts say The Taking of Christ would fetch between £25 million and £30 million.

The gallery spokesman yesterday said the beetle infestation was now being eradicated in its conservation section and the painting would be back on public view shortly.

. Brian Fallon, Chief Critic, writes: The rediscovery of the Caravaggio painting only a few years ago, after it had hung almost unnoticed for decades in the Jesuit House in Leeson Street, Dublin, reads almost like a detective story. Sold by the aristocratic Roman family who owned it early in the 19th century, then brought to Scotland and eventually to Ireland, it was long believed to be a work by the Dutch painter Honthorst.

It was only when Sergio Benedetti, a leading member of the National Gallery's restoration and conservation staff, visited the Jesuit house after an unofficial suggestion that he might clean the paintings there, that Benedetti guessed the real identity of The Taking of Christ.

Intense research followed, and Caravaggio experts all over Europe were consulted, as well as scholars of Italian Baroque art in general, before the National Gallery was finally able to announce that Ireland had a genuine work by the Italian master, who died at the age of 37.

The Order later gave the painting to the National Gallery. It has since received worldwide attention, and in the opinion of some leading artists, as well as scholars, is one of Caravaggio's finest and most dramatic works.