A painting dismissed as an imitation of Sandro Botticelli’s Madonna Of The Pomegranate has actually turned out to be the real thing.
The more famous and much larger version is displayed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
For years it was thought that the smaller version, painted in 1487, was a copy by an unknown artist.
Besides, there were details in it that were slightly different to the larger work and more than a century of yellow varnish concealed the quality of the painting underneath.
But the truth about the 15th century masterpiece, which shows Madonna and Christ Child with four angels, was revealed when English Heritage conservators started to clean it.
They stripped off the dirt and varnish and used x-rays, infrared and pigment analysis.
Experts at the National Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum were also consulted and all of the information pointed to the painting being an original from the famous painter’s Florence workshop.
Rachel Turnbull, English Heritage’s senior collections conservator, said: “Being able to closely examine and conserve this painting for the first time in over 100 years has really given us the chance to get up-close and personal with the paintwork.
“I noticed instantly that the painting bore a striking resemblance to the workshop of Botticelli himself.
“Stylistically it was too similar to be an imitation, it was of the right period, it was technically correct and it was painted on poplar, a material commonly used at the time.
“After removing the yellowing varnish, x-ray and infrared examination revealed under-drawing, including changes to the final composition uncommon in straight imitations.”
With its new-found fame, the painting will be back on display at Ranger’s House in Greenwich, London, from 1 April.
It was bought by diamond magnate Julius Wernher in 1897 and is now part of the Wernher Collection, which includes more than 700 works of art.