found a small portrait of a lady framed by a beautifully elaborate gilded 17th century frame in the vault of the ducal palace of the Este family in Sassuolo, outside of Modena.
He immediately noted the high quality of the painting. The piece was
thought to be an 18th century copy of the head of the Madonna in
Rafael’s famous Holy Family of the Pearl now in the Prado museum,
so Scalini found its exceptional quality incongruous. Also, why would a
mere 12 by 16-inch copy be put in such a large, sumptuous frame?
followed up on his hunch that this might be an actual Raphael by
digging through the ducal archives for any reference to the portrait. He
found nothing about a copy, but he did find an inventory reference from
1663 to a “portrait of a woman” by Raphael. There is no record of the
Raphael portrait currently in the collection, nor was there any trace of
it having been ceded to the Elector of Saxony in 1746 when Francesco
III d’Este had to sell many of the most valuable pictures after he was
bankrupted by the Wars of the Spanish, Polish, and Austrian Successions.
There was no record of it being loaned or dispersed at any other time
either, so it seems the Rafael was squirreled away somewhere and
forgotten, maybe to be mistaken for a copy decades later
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