A painting by Flemish master Sir Peter Paul Rubens, previously lost for centuries, is expected to sell for up to £6 million at auction.
Saint Sebastian Tended By Two Angels was last recorded in the collection of his Genovese patrons in 1730.
When it resurfaced 15 years ago, it was attributed to the French painter Laurent de la Hyre, though it was later identified as a Rubens composition.
It is estimated to be valued at between £4-6 million.
Since its rediscovery and correct identification, fresh evidence uncovered by X-ray technical analysis has revealed the hidden secrets lying beneath the painting’s surface.
Analysis shows that the piece is the prime version of the composition, which was previously known to Rubens lovers through another version, held for centuries in the collection of a second great Italian family, the Corsinis, and now hanging in the Galleria Corsini, Rome.
The painting depicts the plight of Sebastian, an officer in the Roman army and a convert to Christianity, who was a victim of religious persecution.
Bound to a tree, Sebastian was pierced by soldiers’ arrows and left to die, before a miraculous intervention by angels took place.
It is likely that the painting was commissioned by Ambrogio Spinola, an Italian nobleman and great military commander, with whom Rubens enjoyed shared diplomatic, political and artistic interests, and painted several times.
With the painting passing out of the Spinola family name and through the female line of descent, the painting became untraceable until its reappearance in the US 230 years later – in 1963.
It was later acquired by the present owner in a 2008 auction, during which it was presented as a painting by de la Hyre.
George Gordon, co-chairman of Old Master Paintings Worldwide at Sotheby’s, said: “This beautifully preserved painting, full of Rubens’ Italian experience, is proof that even great artists’ names can be lost to history.
“Thankfully the fascinating detail revealed by scientific analysis, combined with meticulous research, and consideration by leading scholars, rightfully affirms the reattribution of this work to one of the greatest painters of his time, and shows us that there is still so much for us to discover, even about the artist’s best known works.”
Saint Sebastian Tended By Two Angels is on display at Sotheby’s London from June 30 to July 5.