A painting that previously sat in the basement of Yale University’s museum has been identified as a masterpiece by Velázquez. Photograph: Christopher Mir
It is meant to show the Virgin Mary learning to read and for decades it has sat in the basement at Yale University’s museum, catalogued as a good, if second-rate, example of 17th-century Spanish painting.
Now the battered canvas has been identified by one art expert as the work of Diego Velázquez, the Spanish painter whose Las Meninas (The Maids of Honour, 1656) is one of the jewels of the Prado Museum in Madrid.
In an article in Ars magazine John Marciari, an expert from the San Diego Museum of Art, has identified the painting as belonging to the Spanish master’s early period.
The painting had been scratched, exposed to damp and had sections chopped off the top and bottom, according to Spain’s El País newspaper, which quoted Marciari as confirming the find. Marciari has dated the painting to around 1617, when the Velázquez was just 18 and still living in his native Seville. He claims it is the most important Velázquez find for more than a century.
Marciari compares the painting to The Luncheon, a Velázquez that hangs in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia. He points to similarities in style, to the way faces and figures emerge from shadows and to the still life elements included in the painting – which was probably commissioned by a local church or convent.
The first photographic record of the painting at Yale dates back to 1946, though it is believed to have been a gift made in the 1920s by a family of American shipowners, the Townshends, whose vessels travelled to Spain.