THE art world has been left reeling after an obscure 18th century religious painting was attributed to Spanish master Francisco Goya.

The controversial discovery came when Madrid-based art historian Anson Navarro was brought in to analyse the painting previously thought to have been painted by Francisco Bayeu.

The professor at Madrid’s Autonoma University couldn’t believe his eyes when he realised that the 83cm by 58cm painting, in fact, belonged to Spain’s old master.

Navarro believes the picture – depicting the Virgin Mary and the body of Jesus – was painted in 1774 by the legendary artist.

The painting, which was bought by a collector in Barcelona in 2008, was probably first commissioned by a wealthy merchant in Zaragoza.

It came well before Goya’s famous paintings of the Spanish royal family and his so-called ‘black paintings’, which are among Spain’s most famous. The discovery came after the owner called in Navarro to confirm the work was a Bayeu.

According to a source, the owner waited nervously as the professor checked every detail before finally revealing that it was, not a Bayeu, but in fact a Goya,

It could now be worth 100 times its previous value and well over a million euros going on recent Goya valuations.

Some experts are more sceptical, while others insist that the painting has less value as it was only painted by a 28-year-old Goya, before he had become an established artist.

One expert however, Ismael Gutiérrez Pastor, a professor at Autónoma University in Madrid, described it as both authentic and a ‘very significant discovery’.

Professor Navarro, who has spent over 30 years studying Bayeu and the work of Goya’s first master José Luzán, said: ‘We need to keep studying Goya’s work rigorously. The better we investigate, the better results we will obtain and Goya’s oeuvre will benefit.’

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