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$25.5 Million Raphael Painting Discovered in Scottish Manor House

An art historian working for a BBC television show recognized a painting in a dark corner as the work of the Renaissance master

(National Trust for Scotland/Haddo House)
smithsonian.com

The Haddo House is full of treasures. Located in northeast Scotland, the manor is stuffed with rare antique furniture, sculptures and paintings. Built in 1732, the estate is run by the National Trust for Scotland, which has opened it up to guided tours. Anyone going through the tour should keep an eye for one recently restored painting currently on display in the dining room. That's because it appears to be a genuine Raphael.

According to the BBC, art historian and art dealer Bendor Grosvenor discovered the painting while visiting the Haddo House earlier this year for a BBC show called Britain’s Lost Masterpieces in which he and art historian Jacky Klein track down lost or overlooked paintings in small museums or country houses.

Dalya Alberge at The Guardian reports that Grosvenor made the trip to investigate some other paintings when he noticed the Madonna up in a high dark corner. It was discolored by dark varnish but it stuck out to him. “I thought, crikey, it looks like a Raphael … It was very dirty under old varnish, which goes yellow,” he tells Alberge “Being an anorak [obsessive], I go round houses like this with binoculars and torches [flashlights]. If I hadn’t done that, I’d probably have walked past it.”

A little research revealed that the painting had been purchased in the early 1800s by George Hamilton-Gordon, the 4th Earl of Aberdeen and Prime Minister between 1852 and 1855 as a genuine Raphael. In 1841, the painting went to London and was part of Raphael exhibition at the British Institution. However, the painting was soon downgraded by experts of the time and attributed to Innocenzo Francucci da Imola, a minor Italian painter who often copied Raphael.

Grosvenor convinced the National Trust to conserve the painting and remove the layers of varnish. Research also revealed underdrawing in keeping with Raphael’s technique. The face and model additionally pointed to the painter, as does a now lost photograph of a Raphael drawing that matches the Madonna.

In 1899, Alberge reports, the painting was valued at £20, roughly $2550 in today's currency. As a Raphael, it would be worth about $25.5 million on the art market.

Though outside experts are optimistic that the find is genuine, the piece needs examination by other Raphael scholars before it officially rejoins the pantheon of his work. For now, it will remain at the Haddo House.

“This is particularly exciting for the piece which looks likely to be by Raphael,” Jennifer Melville, head of collections, archives and libraries at the National Trust for Scotland says in a press release. “There are not many places where you can experience the work of one of the Renaissance’s giants in a dining room. It is this intimacy which makes exploring our collections quite so special.”

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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