The painting, The Madonna and Child (1480s), which is now on display at the National Museum Cardiff in the Welsh capital, was donated by a collector in 1952 who believed it to be a Botticelli, though experts quickly downgraded it to being in the style of the master. It turns out both parties were right—the arched background was added by a forger in the 20th century, but new analysis proves that Botticelli almost certainly had a hand in the figures. Infrared photographs showed two key details proving the painting to be an authentic Botticelli: The under-drawing was unmistakably in the fashion of Botticelli’s studio, specifically details surrounding the way the Madonna’s hands were laid out, and finally a doodle of a man’s head in profile was spotted beneath the paint. The doodle was almost inarguably drawn by Botticelli.
I’m now convinced that Botticelli played an important part in its production, and am delighted it has once more gone on public display. [. . .] We had to proceed millimeter by millimeter, given the fragility of the panel and the original paint layers. Removing the dirt and old varnish to reveal the true beauty of the Madonna’s features felt like witnessing the rebirth of a masterpiece.
It was Gillespie who discovered that the arched background was executed by a forger. He suspected that this was done to conceal the fact the painting had been reduced in size from a larger work.
Laurence Kanter, Botticelli scholar and chief curator of Yale University Art Gallery, added:
Clearly this beautiful painting came from Botticelli’s studio. Probably Botticelli himself is responsible for more than a bit of it. A great deal more study is needed to solve the riddles of ‘how much’, ‘what parts’, ‘why’, ‘when’, and hopefully the painting can now be studied further by scholars and the public alike.
Earlier this year, close analysis and restoration work on Madonna of the Pomegranate (ca. 1487), a painting long thought to be a copy of a Botticelli, revealed that it was an original work from the artist’s Florence workshop.