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A lost Michelangelo? Art scholar claims controversial find in Oxford

A respected Italian art scholar claims to have identified a previously unknown painting by Michelangelo at the University of Oxford.

Antonio Forcellino, a veteran Italian conservator, made international headlines last month when he backed a wealthy New York family's claim that a painting they had stored behind their sofa was by the Renaissance master. Now Forcellino says new research techniques applied to a piece owned by Campion Hall, an institution which allows religious scholars to study at Oxford, has revealed it to be an authentic Michelangelo.

Crucifixion With The Madonna, St John And Two Mourning Angels was believed to have been a work by Marcello Venusti, one of Michelangelo's contemporaries.

"You can immediately see the difference between this work and that of Venusti," said Mr Forcellino, who used infra-red techniques to study layers beneath the finished painting. He writes in his new book, The Lost Michelangelos, that "no one but Michelangelo could have painted such a masterpiece".

While most of the headlines accompanying Mr Forcellino's book have focused on his discovery in the US, none have mentioned his British find.

"The figure of Christ was in a wholly different league... the modelling was stronger, and the painting and facial expression had a clarity that created the impression of an artist of much greater standing," writes Mr Forcellino.

The hall bought the painting at a Sotheby's auction in the 1930s. According to the hall's master, Brendan Callaghan, scholarship until now had attributed the work to Venusti. Mr Callaghan said: "If true, the painting would go from being one member of our fine collection to the most exciting part of it. It could not remain within our four walls." The work is being cared for by Oxford's Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology.

Mr Forcellino claimed London's National Gallery continued to attribute the work to Venusti "out of embarrassment" that they had not identified it. A National Gallery spokeswoman said the gallery did not comment on works not held in its collection.

The Michelangelo painting of Jesus and Mary identified in New York had been placed behind a sofa after being knocked off the wall by a tennis ball.

The Experts

Antonio Forcellino is one of the world's leading authorities on Michelangelo and an expert art historian and restorer. He has been involved in the restoration of numerous masterpieces, including Michelangelo's Moses. In 2009 he wrote a biography on the artist and his work – Michelangelo: A Tormented Life retraces the master's journey from Rome to Florence, explores his changing religious views and examines the complicated politics of patronage in Renaissance Italy. He has also written The Lost Michelangelos, which used historical research, restoration and radiographic analysis to trace two paintings to Michelangelo's studio.