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Lost Botticelli Masterpiece Rediscovered in Southern Italy After Decades

Lost Botticelli Masterpiece Rediscovered in Southern Italy After Decades

In a remarkable discovery, a long-lost painting by the renowned 15th-century artist Sandro Botticelli has been found in a home in Gragnano, near Naples, Italy. The artwork, depicting the Virgin Mary and infant Christ, had been missing since the 1980s and is estimated by Italian authorities to be worth at least €100 million ($109 million). The painting, measuring 58 x 80 centimeters (23 x 31 inches) and executed in tempera on wood, was originally commissioned for the Roman Catholic Church in 1470.

Known for masterpieces such as "The Birth of Venus" and "Primavera," Botticelli's latest rediscovery showcases his unparalleled skill in religious iconography. The painting had initially hung in a church in the Neapolitan suburb of Santa Maria la Carità but was relocated to a local family named Somma for safekeeping after the church it was housed in burned down in the early 1900s.

Following an earthquake in 1982, the parish entrusted the painting to the Somma family, who were neighbors and friends. Official documents from the Italian Ministry of Culture affirm the legitimacy of the family's custodianship, and they are not currently under any criminal investigation.

For several years after the family assumed responsibility for the artwork, local authorities regularly checked its condition, offering advice on preservation and facilitating its relocation and cleaning. However, checks ceased in the 1990s, and the painting mysteriously disappeared from the culture ministry's inventory of missing works.

This summer, the lost masterpiece was finally traced to the Somma family after being displayed in their homes over the years. Commander Massimiliano Croce of the Carabinieri Cultural Heritage Protection Unit detailed the collaborative effort between the police and local authorities to mediate the retrieval of the painting.

“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,” explained Croce.

While the Somma family retains ownership of the painting, it will be preserved in a museum. The restoration process is anticipated to take at least a year, as the artwork requires extensive repairs due to scratches and paint loss, likely incurred during the 1980s earthquake and subsequent house moves.

The painting, one of Botticelli's final works before his death in 1510, will eventually find its place in one of Naples' national museums. The rediscovery of this long-lost masterpiece not only contributes to our understanding of Botticelli's artistic legacy but also highlights the importance of continued vigilance in safeguarding cultural treasures for future generations.

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