A painting considered to be a copy for over a century has turned out to be an original Rubens, on display in a small Russian museum in the Urals region. The masterpiece is entitled "Mary Magdalene in mourning with her sister Martha".
Restoration has revealed the painting, part of the museum in the small town of Irbit, 200km from the city of Yekaterinburg, to be "undoubtedly" an original by the 17th-century Flemish genius, museum director Valery Karpov told AFP.
Karpov, the head of painting restoration department from the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, said it was "undoubtedly an original, created with the participation of Rubens' pupils" after he had examined the painting.
Experts believe the face of Jesus's follower Mary Magdalene and her arms were painted by the creator of The Three Graces himself, while the figure of her sister could have been done by pupils in his workshop.
Russia's giant Hermitage museum gave the painting to the Irbit museum back in 1975, when Karpov, then its young director, asked for some art to fill the walls, modestly hoping only for good-quality copies, AFP reported.
During all those years, the provincial museum kept the painting in its archives, because it was in poor condition. Last year it finally received state funding to restore it.
Karpov said that at the end of the 19th century the masterpiece belonged to a teacher at a military medical academy. It was requisitioned by the Bolsheviks who, in 1931, passed it as a Rubens copy to the Hermitage.
In 2002, the newly discovered Rubens' painting entitled "Massacre of the Innocents" sold at a Sotheby's auction for over US$76 million, a record for an Old Master painting.