Police have seized a Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece worth £90 million which has been missing for centuries.
The lost portrait of Renaissance socialite Isabella d’Este was first uncovered in a Swiss bank vault in 2013 stored among 400 other pieces of art.
Negotiations to sell the artwork for €120 million (£88 million) were at an advanced stage, according to court officials.
Investigators were first alerted about the painting in 2013 but an attempt to seize it failed after police found it has gone missing again.
A separate investigation into tax and insurance fraud crimes meant the Isabella d’Este resurfaced for a second time in 2013.
The police of Ticino caught a lawyer with a warrant to sell the oil painting.
“During a separate insurance fraud investigation it came to light that an Italian lawyer in Pessaro had been made the agent to sell a painting attributed to da Vinci for no less than €95 million,” prosecutor Manfredi Palumbo said.
This led police to successfully seize the picture which was found on Monday in Lugano, near the Swiss-Italian border.
It is unknown who owned the painting or who was under investigation for trafficking art illegally and committing insurance fraud. Nor did they disclose if any arrests were made.
Experts have attributed the painting to da Vinci using carbon dating and referencing a 1499 pencil sketch of the aristocrat on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris.
The pigments and priming of the canvas are also markers of the work's legitimacy.
However, some have cast doubt on the ownership of the work—stating that it could have been completed by the artist’s students.
Another disputed da Vinci went on tour last month in Asia. The ‘second Mona Lisa,’ believed to be the earlier version of the painter’s masterpiece, is part of a traveling showcase to prove its authenticity.
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