11 May ‘Fake’ Raphael turns out to be worth £25million
But art historians now believe it to be a first draft by Raphael of part of a larger painting, The Holy Family (or ‘The Pearl’), which hangs in Madrid’s Prado museum.
The small portrait has languished in a storeroom beneath a palazzo in Sassuolo, near Modena in northern Italy, since the 1970s.
Mario Scalini, an art expert, came across it when he set about sifting through more than 25,000 works stashed in the palazzo’s vaults, which belongs to a noble family who ruled the Duchy of Modena for four centuries.
He had a hunch that it was more important than had previously been assumed, with the main clue being the quality of its frame.
“It struck me that it was mounted in an enormous, elaborately carved gilded frame of a very high value, which didn’t seem to fit with something that was meant to be an unimportant copy,” he said. “Clearly, whoever chose the frame knew who the real painter was and the true value of the work.”
To test the theory, he had the painting analysed by experts at a research institute in Pisa.
Using infra-red and ultraviolet ray “multilayer” technology, they were able to see through accumulated layers of paint.
The institute’s Lisa Venerosi Pesciolini, one of Italy’s most respected art restorers, said: “Underneath the layers, it was possible to see the original painting. This is an extremely important find.”
Mr Scalini, acting supervisor of fine arts for the provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia in northern Italy, said: “The results of the investigation allow us to assert with reasonable certainty that the work was painted by Raphael.” It is thought the portrait was started by Raphael, but finished by one of his most prominent pupils, Giulio Romano, after Raphael’s death in 1520.
Mr Scalini said the painting, which is owned by a public art gallery in Modena, could be worth 30 million euros or more.
In December a drawing by Raphael, Head of a Muse, sold for £29.2 million at a Christie’s auction in London – a world record price for an old master drawing.