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ROME (Reuters) - Art-lovers around the world who were keeping their fingers crossed that a newly discovered canvas was possibly a lost painting by the Baroque master Caravaggio were disappointed on Tuesday.
The Italian art world was in a buzz last week when the Vatican newspaper l'Osservatore Romano ran an article that a painting in Rome's main Jesuit church could be a Caravaggio.
The newspaper said that after a recent cleaning, the painting of the "Martyrdom of St. Lawrence" showed clear Caravaggio hallmarks including dramatic lighting effects.
"It was always here hanging on a wall, we passed it hundreds of times without ever paying it any real attention," said Father Daniele Libanori, the church curator.
It was only when the canvas was cleaned that it occurred to Libanori that he might have something special on his hands.
"During the cleaning process it seemed particularly beautiful and therefore we informed the (art) authorities," he said.
But after inspecting the painting, experts from Rome's Museums Authority excluded the possibility, pointing to less-than-masterly brushstrokes on the saint's hands and the poor depiction of the executioners watching him burn.
"It is a very, very interesting painting, but I think we can exclude at this point of our studies that it can be the work of Caravaggio," Rosella Vodret, of the Museums Authority, told Reuters.
"It has a strange iconography -- maybe it was this that made people think it was Caravaggio's work," she said, referring to the way the saint was portrayed.
Vodret said she hoped detailed study of the canvas would help date the work and identify the real author.
"The only thing I can say at this moment is that this painting is from an artist from the Naples region: it could be the work of one of the first followers of Caravaggio," she said.
Caravaggio fled to Naples in 1606 after killing a man in a brawl in Rome. He stayed in the city for nearly a year under the protection of the Colonna family and is likely to have had a notable influence on emerging painters in the region.
The artist who pioneered the Baroque painting technique of contrasting light and dark known as chiaroscuro was famous for his wild lifestyle.
The mystery surrounding Caravaggio's death in 1610 has long intrigued scholars, with theories that he was murdered, or died alone after collapsing from malaria on a deserted Tuscan beach.
Celebrations this year to mark the 400th anniversary of his death were given added color last month when Italian anthropologists claimed finally to have found the artist's remains.
Writing by Ella Ide, editing by Philip Pullella and Steve Addison