Rembrandt painted the work in 1632-33, but it was “considered lost and never shown until now,” according to a press release from the Italian Heritage Foundation, which coordinated the identification project, published Tuesday.
The oil on paper applied to canvas shows “The Adoration of the Magi,” or the visit of the three wise men to baby Jesus in his crib.
The painting was discovered in 2016 when it suffered an “accidental trauma,” and was sent to art restorer Antonella Di Francesco.
“During my work one of the most beautiful things that can happen during a lifetime: the sudden awareness of being in front of a work by a very great author who reveals himself to you, which comes out of its opaque zone and chooses you to be redeemed from the darkness,” said Di Francesco, who had to clean and restore a painting darkened by old varnish, in the press release.
“This is the moment in which we must overcome the vertigo capable of making us sink into that wonderful sense of belonging to history. It is a thrill that has no equal, which vibrates until it drags you into an unstoppable impulse of morbid curiosity. I don’t fight it and I let myself be carried away by the spell.”
A notoriously prolific artist during the so-called Dutch Golden Age, Rembrandt van Rijn produced hundreds of paintings and etchings during his lifetime, resulting in numerous attribution disputes.
Rembrandt scholars believed the painting had been lost and thought it had survived only through copies, the best known of which are kept in Gothenburg, Sweden and St Petersburg, Russia.
The attribution of the painting to Rembrandt is supported by its dimensions – 54 by 44.5 centimeters (21.3 by 17.5 inches) – and the use of a very rare technique typical of Dutch masters working in the 1630s, according to the press release.
Its provenance was confirmed at a symposium at the French Academy of the Villa Medici in Rome, attended by international scholars and experts.
The event was promoted by the Heritage Foundation Italy (FPI), an NGO which works to promote Italian cultural heritage.
FPI is working on a project named “Discovering Masterpiece,” which encourages the study and exhibition of Italian art and international art in Italy.
“Kicking off the ‘Discovering Masterpiece’ project with the discovery of an absolute masterpiece by one of the most loved artists of all time is a source of great pride for our Foundation,” said FPI president Guido Talarico in the press release.
The painting is currently being stored by art dealers, but the family plans to lend it to museums and galleries rather than selling it, Talarico told CNN Thursday.
It is not the first time experts have discovered a lost Rembrandt, with previously-dismissed works being re-attributed to the artist.
A Rembrandt painting that was thought to be fake and was stashed in a basement for decades may in fact be genuine, experts revealed last year.