A 16th century masterpiece of the Virgin Mary believed to be the work of the Italian renaissance painter Raphael and worth around £20 million has been discovered in a Scottish stately home.
One of Britain’s leading art historians made the remarkable find in the dining room of Haddo House, an Aberdeenshire mansion house run by the National Trust for Scotland.
Although three Raphaels have been on long-term loan to the National Galleries of Scotland since 1945, the “Haddo Madonna” is the only publicly-owned painting by the artist in Scotland.
The painting - which was bought by former Haddo House owner George Hamilton-Gordon, the 4th Earl of Aberdeen and British Prime Minister between 1852 and 1844. It was later wrongly attributed to a little-known Italian painter, Innocenzo da Imola, and valued at just £20 in the late 19th century.
However Dr Bendor Grosvenor discovered it had been bought as a Raphael in the early 19th century and went on display in London along with other work by the artist in 1841.
Dr Bender is the art historian who discovered a lost portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie in a stately home in East Lothian - which was subsequently secured for the nation and is now on display in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
Designed by the celebrated Scottish architect William Adam in 1732 and extensively refurbished in the 19th century, Haddo House has a vast collection of fine art, including work by Pompeo Batoni, Sir Thomas Lawrence and James Giles.
Although Haddo House itself is only open for guided tours, its grounds are a hugely-popular attraction in the north-east, drawing more than 200,000 visitors each year. Dr Grosvenor made the discovery during the making of an episode of the BBC programme Britain’s Lost Masterpieces.
He said: “Finding a possible Raphael is about as exciting as it gets.
“This is a beautiful picture that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. I hope ‘the Haddo Madonna’, which would be Scotland’s only publicly owned Raphael, brings many people to this part of Aberdeenshire.”
The BBC 4 show, which goes out on Wednesday, reveals that the Haddo House art collection also includes a previously-unknown landscape attributed to French artist Claud Lorrain.
Jennifer Melville, head of collections at NTS, which Haddo House was left to in 1976, said: “We hold so many treasures all over the country. We always knew that the collection at Haddo was very special, and the discovery of these wonderful pieces confirms its importance in the Scottish art world. It is rare for visitors to see works of this quality outwith a gallery, so it is a real treat to come to Haddo House and enjoy them in this wonderful setting.
“This is particularly exciting for the piece which looks likely to be by Raphael. 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.”
The National Galleries of Scotland, which acquired the lost Bonnie Prince Charlie portrait earlier this year, declined to comment on Dr Grosvenor’s discovery. It has two Raphael drawings by in its collection.