A painting gifted to the University of Aberdeen
has been identified as a £2million work by a prominent Italian artist - more than 150 years after it was donated.
The image of Roman ruins outside a city has now been positively identified by two experts as an original work by 18th century Venetian artist Canaletto.
Senior lecturer in History of Art at the University of Aberdeen, John Gash, and leading Canaletto expert Charles Beddington have published their findings in The Burlington Magazine the leading journal on fine arts.
It was often thought to be from the Canaletto school that is, by one of Canalettos pupils or someone imitating his style, explains Mr Gash. However I and others have long suspected it was a real Canaletto and now we have been able to confirm this.
It is clear from the technique and the style, as in the language of forms and composition, that this is a Canaletto and is in fact an autograph work of the highest quality.
The painting had previously decorated the Universitys Principals house but has now been revealed as one of the Universitys treasures.
In researching the painting, Mr Gash read an 1865 article from the Aberdeen Journal that explained the picture was left to the University two years previously by Alexander Henderson of Caskieben, Dyce, together with other paintings and an internationally-important collection of ancient Greek pottery.
The newspaper article describes the painting as The Ruins of a Temple, by B. Canaletti. Canalettos real name was Giovanni Antonio Canal, but his nephew and pupil, Bernardo Bellotto, was confusingly also later known as Canaletto. So it is unclear whether Henderson, who donated the paintings, believed the painting to be by Canalettos nephew, or had merely got the name of the original Canaletto confused.
The painting is not signed by the artist but this is not uncommon.
Occasionally, Canaletto did sign his works but not in this example. However in the middle of the painting is a ruin which displays the coat of arms of his family. Its unlikely someone else would include that, so it acts as a kind of surrogate signature, explains Mr Gash.
Canaletto was one of the most important Venetian painters of the 18th century. He specialised in view paintings or vedute and was renowned for his precisely reproduced images of Venice.
The Ruins of a Temple painting at the University of Aberdeen is not of Venices famous canals but a capriccio a collection of many different elements brought together for the purposes of aesthetics of a ruined temple on the outskirts of a city (perhaps based on Rome or Padua) with a number of people in the foreground and background.
It is difficult to put an accurate price on paintings such as this but given its physical size, subject matter and the quality of the piece I would suggest it could be worth between £1.5million and £2million, comments Mr Gash
The article in the Burlington Magazine, entitled Paintings by Canaletto and his father in Aberdeen University, also attributes a View of the Grand Canal with San Simeone Piccolo and the Scalzi that is also in the Universitys collectionto Canalettos father, Bernardo Canal (1673-1744). He was originally a stage designer but, towards the end of his life, became a copyist of his sons views of Venice.
To supplement the Capriccio, the University has recently acquired a fine impression of Canalettos most famous etching, The Portico with a Lantern (c.1740-44), with the aid of grants from the Principal, former Vice-Principal, Derek Ogston, and the Scottish Governments National Fund for Acquisitions.
Plans are under way by the University to publicly display the Canaletto and the other related items.