Two lost paintings by Italian Renaissance master Fra Angelico have turned up in a modest house in central England in a discovery hailed as one of the most exciting art finds for a generation.
The works — two panels each painted with the standing figure of a Dominican saint in tempera on a gold background — are expected to fetch more than $1.9 million at auction.
They were discovered behind a bedroom door in a terraced house in Oxford, central England, when art auctioneer Guy Schwinge was called in to carry out a valuation after the owner of the house, British librarian Jean Preston, died in July.
They were commissioned by Florentine ruler Cosimo de’ Medici and his brother Lorenzo, major Renaissance art patrons, in the late 1430s for the high altar at the Church and Convent of San Marco in Florence, where Fra Angelico, a Dominican monk, lived.
“We are dealing with two works of art painted by one of the ‘greats’, intended for his own church and commissioned by one of the greatest art patrons in history,” Schwinge said in a statement. “It simply does not get much better than that.”
The main panel from the altarpiece remains at San Marco, but the frame was broken up 200 years ago as a result of Napoleon’s invasion of Italy. The subsidiary panels from the altarpiece are now scattered in museums around the world.
Media reports said Preston found the paintings in a box of odds and ends when she was working as a manuscript curator at a museum in Huntington, California, in the 1960s. She did not identify them but thought they were “quite nice” and persuaded her father to buy them for a few hundred pounds.
Dillian Gordon, curator of early Italian paintings at the National Gallery in London, described the find as “quite breathtaking”.
“It never ceases to amaze me how these things come to light,” she said in a statement.