Central Asian state of Uzbekistan has with much fanfare put on display what it says is a lost masterpiece of Western art, a painting by Italian Renaissance master Paolo Veronese, AFP reports.
The painting, which Uzbek experts say is one of several versions Veronese painted portraying the lamentation after Christ’s descent from the cross, has gone on display at the Uzbek State Arts Museum.
However the Italian embassy in Tashkent has urged caution, saying while the show is a remarkable event, further work will be needed to confirm that the picture is a genuine Veronese.
The State Arts Museum unveiled the painting in an exhibition called the "Revival of a Masterpiece", presenting it to the public at a ceremony with Uzbek officials, the Italian ambassador and Russian Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church leaders.
The Arts Museum said the "Lamentation of Christ" was brought to Uzbekistan in the 19th century when the territory was part of the Russian Empire.
The picture was part of the collection which belonged to the Romanov dynasty of Russia's last emperor, Nicholas II.
It had already been on display at museums many times as an unnamed artist’s masterpiece, according to Uzbek experts.
The painting came to Tashkent as part of the luggage of Grand Duke Nikolai Konstantinovich Romanov, the grandson of Tsar Nicolas I who was exiled to Uzbekistan after falling out with the royal family over an affair with an American woman.
"All this time the painting was on the fourth floor of the museum and we thought it was a copy," said prominent Uzbek artist Sabir Rakhmetov. "We used to bring in our students to copy it."
Things changed when a young arts expert, Dilshod Azizov, was told two years ago to do some restoration works on the painting which was covered in thick dust.
"Any restoration starts with the attribution and analysis," said Azizov, who graduated from the Saint Petersburg Arts Academy in Russia and worked in Finland for some time as a restoration expert.
As the oil canvas painting had no attribution Azizov started to look at archive documents.
"I found that the first information about the painting was published by the 'Turkestanskiye Vedomosti' newspaper in 1886 and was attributed to Paolo Veronese and belonged to Grand Duke Nikolai Konstantinovich Romanov who lived in Tashkent," Azizov said.
After the Russian revolution in 1917, Romanov's collection, including this painting attributed to Veronese, was donated to Tashkent University, where three years later the Central Museum of Art was established.
Romanov's diary says he bought the painting himself when he was in Italy in 1871-72, according to Azizov.
Aziziov started a very long examination of the canvas comparing the painting with other works of Veronese and his followers. Then came ultraviolet, infrared and X-ray tests.
"All comparison works and tests showed that it was not a copy. For example, the X-ray showed that hands and legs of Christ were drawn several times," Azizov said.
"When creating a picture, authors usually redraw and change some of its details, and when a copy is made, such changes are not necessary."
Other tests showed that the canvas was restored three times and lost size due to removal of damaged edges, according to the expert.
Chemical, hydrochloric and carbonic analysis of the canvas showed up elements of painting materials which were used by Renaissance artists in Italy.
"We have sent the samples of the analysis to foreign experts for international attribution of the Veronese work," Aziziov said.
Museum workers said the painting again needed painstaking restoration.
Italy's ambassador in Uzbekistan Riccardo Manara praised the discovery as an important event, adding however that further research involving foreign experts was also needed.
"I think it is necessary in the future to have international expertise to verify the authenticity of the work," he told AFP.
Veronese painted several versions of the Lamentation of Christ – where Jesus Christ is mourned after being taken down from the cross.