Neglected painting is 'probably' a £35 million Raphael

Went ignored for years

The painting revealed

A grimy painting at a National Trust house has been revealed as a Raphael, worth a jaw-dropping £35 million.

The Virgin Mary, at Haddo House, Methlick, was spotted by historian Bendor Grosvenor, who was there to inspect some other paintings for a new BBC series called Britain's Lost Masterpieces.

In 1899, the sixteenth-century painting was bought for £20 - around £2,000 in today's money - by George Hamilton-Gordon, the 4th Earl of Aberdeen and prime minister between 1852 and 1855.

It was bought as a genuine Raphael, but was later attributed to a minor Renaissance artist, Innocenzo da Imola, and tucked away high up over a door.

"I thought, crikey, it looks like a Raphael. It was very dirty under old varnish, which goes yellow," Grosvenor tells the Guardian.

"Being an anorak, I go round houses like this with binoculars and torches. If I hadn't done that, I'd probably have walked past it."

The painting was cleaned up, revealing an alteration in one of the fingers, which shows that it was an original creative work rather than a copy. The model also resembles the woman used by Raphael for other works.

In the programme, Sir Nicholas Penny, former director of the National Gallery, describes the painting as 'very beautiful' and says he leans towards it being the real thing. However, it'll need to be examined by experts to be sure.

The most recent work by Raphael to change hands, the Madonna of the Pinks, sold for £35 million in 2004.

The painting has now been given pride of place in Haddo House's dining room.

Valuable paintings are regularly uncovered by television programmes, showing just how many lost masterpieces there may be out there.

Last month, for example, a lost portrait of a child by Willem de Kooning was discovered on the BBC's Fake or Fortune show and valued at around £50,000.

Last year, a set of Lowry sketches came to light on the Antiques Roadshow and were valued at £500,000; and a year before, in one of the show's most astonishing discoveries, a painting was identified as a Van Dyck - although it later failed to sell at auction.

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