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updated 6/8/2007 1:25:07 PM ET 2007-06-08T17:25:07

A fresco which may be the work of Italian renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli has been found in the ruins of a Hungarian palace, the Education and Culture Ministry said Friday.

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The fresco depicting four female figures representing the four cardinal virtues — wisdom, temperance, courage and justice — was first unearthed in the 1930s, but art historians and restorers recently discovered that one of the figures bore the trademarks of Botticelli's style.

The fresco likely was commissioned by Archbishop Janos Vitez, who led Hungary's Catholic Church between 1465 and 1472, as part of the decorations of his palace in the city of Esztergom, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Budapest, the capital.

Vitez had good relations with Italian artists and asked the workshop of Fra Filippo Lippi — where Botticelli was an apprentice — to decorate his working room.

The part of the fresco attributed to Botticelli is the female figure of temperance.

According to expert Zsuzsanna Wierdl, the lines and characteristics of the figure are very similar to those of Botticelli's "Birth Of Venus," painted some 20 years after the Hungarian fresco.

"We can consider the fresco in Esztergom to be Botticelli's work, possibly his first independent creation," the ministry said in a statement.

Using computerized techniques, restorers were able to clean the fresco of later restorations and reach the oldest possible layer, which bore the trademarks of the Lippi workshop.

Botticelli, believed to have been born around 1445 in Florence, Italy, and who died in 1510, also worked on the Sistine Chapel in Rome and was under the patronage of the Medici family.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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