Art historian Bendor Grosvenor and a team of experts were in for a surprise when they recently found a probable Raphael painting in an 18th century home in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. What used to be a painting worth around 20 British pounds could now be worth 20 million. Grosvenor was researching for a new BBC series, “Britain’s Lost Masterpieces,” when he found the over 500-year-old painting in the attic of the Haddo House. After further investigation, Grosvenor discovered it was bought in the early 19th century as an authentic Raphael painting and was exhibited at the British Institution in London alongside other accepted and authenticated Raphael paintings. Later, however, it was “downgraded” and attributed to another Italian artist, Innocenzo da Imola.
Like Raphael, da Imola was a painter during the early 16th century and is known for such religious paintings as “The Virgin and Child with Saints John the Baptist,” “Peter and Paul” and “Joachim and Anne and The Holy Family.” Interestingly enough, da Imola is also known for his “Raphaelesque” style.
After closely examining the painting—which depicts the Virgin Mary—Grosvenor suspected it was not a work from da Imola. “It is simply too good to be by Innocenzo,” Grosvenor said in an interview with The Guardian. After cleaning the painting, he was able to admire its true greatness, and was taken aback: “You stand there and wonder, ‘How did he do that,’ which you do with all great painters.”
The painting—which is dated between 1505 and 1510—is very similar in style to Raphael’s other works. Grosvenor observed that the profile of the Virgin, as well as the model and style of her face, is considerably “Raphaelesque.”
The story of the discovery appeared on the Oct. 5 episode of “Britain’s Lost Masterpieces,” which features Grosvenor and art historian Jacky Klein as co-presenters. “We had to turn this series round in very quick order,” Grosvenor said of the episode’s production.
“We didn’t have time or resources to take it on a European tour of Raphael scholars,” he continued, emphasizing the significance of the discovery. “All the evidence seems to point in the right direction … it would be Scotland’s only publicly owned Raphael.”
Grosvenor is most likely correct about the painting’s origins. In the BBC program, former director of the National Gallery—one of Britain’s most renowned museums—Sir Nicholas Penny confessed the strong possibility that the painting is in fact a true Raphael. All he needed was “a bit more time and courage” to be completely convinced.
Haddo House has a rich history of being the home of earls and marquises of Aberdeen in the 19th century. In 1976, The National Trust for Scotland was given ownership of the house and everything in it, including the painting. Perhaps the presence of a Raphael will draw greater tourism to Aberdeenshire.
“Finding a possible Raphael is about as exciting as it gets,” Grosvenor said. “This is a beautiful picture that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. I hope ‘the Haddo Madonna’ … brings many people to this part of Aberdeenshire.”
The painting is currently in the dining room of the Haddo House, where it can be appreciated for its timeless beauty.