A painting by the famous artist Sandro Botticelli — one believed to be missing for nearly 50 years — has been discovered.
The masterpiece depicting the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus was discovered in a family home in the Italian town of Gragnano, south of Naples, according to CNN.
The artwork is estimated to be worth at least $109 million.
“This is a work totally unknown to the public, which will now be exhibited again, thanks to the intervention of the State,” said Massimiliano Croce, commander of the Italian Carabinieri Cultural Heritage Protection Unit.
Experts believe the 23-by-31-inch artwork — which depicts the Virgin Mary covering her hair with a veil as Jesus sits on her lap — was commissioned for the Roman Catholic Church in 1470. It hung in a church in the Neapolitan suburb of Santa Maria la Carità sometime in the early 1900s after the church it was originally given to caught fire.
The second church was damaged in a 1982 earthquake, prompting the parish to pass the painting to a local Somma family to care for the masterpiece in their private home.
For the first few years, local authorities made themselves available to inspect its condition and advise the family on cleaning and otherwise maintaining it.
However, for an undetermined reason, authorities stopped coming by sometime in the 1990s — and the painting was listed as missing.
This is until this past summer when the piece was finally traced back to the Somma family, who had continued to display the artwork in their houses.
“The last time the authorities had inspected the private residence where the Botticelli painting was kept was over 50 years ago,” Croce said. “Since then, inexplicably, the painting had been forgotten by the authorities.”
‘Inexplicably, the painting had been forgotten by the authorities.’
A spokesman for the Italian Ministry of Culture told CNN that there is an official decree on file that entrusts the painting to the family, clearing the family from any criminal investigation.
“The family continues to hold the title of the work, which, however, will be preserved in a museum,” Croce noted.
Experts claim the painting was one of Botticelli’s most beloved works because his rendition of the Virgin Mary was allegedly inspired by Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci, the artist’s muse and suspected lover, who died at age 23, according to The Guardian.
“The pope donated it to a small countryside church as a tribute to obtain economic support from the powerful Medici family to finance the completion of the Sistine Chapel during a period when the pope was struggling financially,” Peppe Di Massa, an art historian, told La Repubblica.
“Many of us fought for this painting to be returned to the community when its traces were lost. They said it had ended up in a safety deposit box. Now we hope it can find its rightful place in a museum.”
The piece, painted in tempera on wood, will need extensive restoration, as it has been scratched, is missing some paint and underwent changes caused by oxidation. The work is expected to take about a year.
It will eventually be exhibited to the public in one of the national museums in Naples.
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