‘Lost’ Botticelli masterpiece worth $109 million found in home in southern Italy

A painting by the 15th-century master Sandro Botticelli, recorded as missing since the 1980s, has been found at a home in southern Italy.

The depiction of the Virgin Mary and infant Christ was discovered in a home in the town of Gragnano, near Naples, according to the Carabinieri Cultural Heritage Protection Unit of Naples.

The painting by the artist most famous for “The Birth of Venus” and “Primavera” is estimated by Italian authorities to be worth at least €100 million ($109 million). It was commissioned for the Roman Catholic Church in 1470.

The 58- x 80-centimeter (23- x 31-inch) work, painted in tempera on wood, had hung in a church in the Neapolitan suburb of Santa Maria la Carità since the early 1900s, after the church it was originally given to burned down.

When an earthquake damaged the church in 1982, the painting was given by the parish to a local family named Somma for safekeeping, according to a spokesman for the Italian ministry of culture, who told CNN that there is an official decree on file that entrusts the painting to them, and they are not facing any criminal investigation.

For the first few years after the family was entrusted with the painting, local authorities checked on its condition, advising them on where to keep it and helping move and clean it.

But for some reason the checks stopped in the 1990s and the painting was listed on the culture ministry’s inventory of missing works.

The painting has been removed from the farmhouse near Naples and will be kept in a museum. - Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage
The painting has been removed from the farmhouse near Naples and will be kept in a museum. - Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage

The list is frequently updated, and this summer the painting was traced to the Somma family, who had displayed it in their homes over the years, commander Massimiliano Croce said during the presentation of the find.

After tracking down the branch of the family that currently held the painting, the police worked with the local mayor, who was already aware of the Botticelli’s presence in the Somma home and helped mediate its retrieval, Croce said

“This is a work totally unknown to the public which will now be exhibited again thanks to the intervention of the State. We acted in an administrative manner, without resorting to the Prosecutor’s Office or a seizure, thanks also to the mediation of the mayor,” Croce said.

“The family continues to hold the title of the work, which, however, will be preserved in a museum,” Croce added.

The painting, which will need extensive restoration, shows the Virgin Mary, with blonde hair covered by a veil, holding a chubby baby Jesus on her lap — similar to other depictions by Botticelli, according to the culture ministry.

It is missing some paint and has been scratched, probably during the earthquake in the 1980s and in subsequent house moves.

It is not clear why the state stopped checking on the painting.

“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.”

It is thought to be one of the final paintings by the master, who died in 1510.

The painting will eventually be exhibited in one of the national museums in Naples, but restoration will take at least a year, according to the ministry.

The Somma family declined to comment when contacted by CNN.

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