Published  21/02/2003

Botticelli worth £10 million found in vaults at National Gallery

Botticelli worth 10 million found in vaults at National Gallery

After lying unidentified for more than 150 years in the vaults of the National Gallery in London, a masterpiece by Italian Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli has been identified. If it were put up for auction, it is estimated it would fetch 10 million. Thought to be the work of a minor artist from Sienna, the painting of St Francis surrounded by angels has never been exhibited. Restorers cleaning the painting discovered similarities with other works by Botticelli; documents proving its true provenance have since been found.

The painting was in an unflattering frame and had a gilded background, not typical of Botticelli's work. It is thought now to have been employed by the artist to please his patron. The faces of the angels were the key to its identity as they corresponded to those in another Botticelli in the National Gallery. The rather glum portrayal of St Francis is in keeping with Botticelli's style of painting. So to is the manner in which the angels are piled vertically on either side of the central figure.

It was the quality of the painting that clinched the identification process; it was agreed by experts that it was simply too good to be a 'follower of Botticelli'. The St Francis painting was painted 10 years before Botticelli's most famous work, 'The Birth of Venus', at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

This is a most exciting find for the National Gallery. Botticelli (1445-1510) was a most individual Renaissance artist, although he was not fully appreciated until after his death. This particular painting was purchased by the first Director of the National Gallery, Sir Charles Lock Eastlake, in 1858. Its reattribution is a great credit to the level of scholarly expertise in the conservation and curatorial departments of the National.

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