Lost Botticelli Painting Found: A 40-Year Artistic Odyssey

Witness the revival of a cultural gem as the Naples Cultural Heritage Protection Unit announces the recovery of Botticelli’s “Virgin and Child.” Delve into the mysteries surrounding its disappearance and follow the unfolding story of its preservation and restoration.


The Naples Cultural Heritage Protection Unit recently announced the rediscovery of Sandro Botticelli’s Virgin and Child,” missing since 1980. The canvas, valued at approximately 100 million euros, was found in Gragnano, in a deplorable state, after going missing from a church on the outskirts of Naples and being under the care of a family.

This artistic treasure, a tempera panel measuring 58 by 80 centimetres, depicts the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus on a throne. The work, belonging to the renowned Renaissance painter Botticelli, was originally displayed in the Santa Maria delle Grazie church, located in “Santa Maria la Caritá” on the outskirts of Naples, since the early 20th century.

Botticelli - Painting

According to statements from the spokesperson for the Italian Ministry of Culture, 1982 an earthquake affected the region and the church, leading to the decision to entrust the painting to the Somma family for safekeeping. However, the official version of the artwork’s fate is controversial, as Massimiliano Croce, representative of the police to protect cultural heritage in Naples, claims that “the authorities had forgotten the painting.”

Although the painting was listed as “protected works” in 1931, 1941, and 1968, its whereabouts remained in the shadows until Nello D’auria, mayor of Gargano, contacted Michele Somma, the last known person to have had the artwork in their possession. D’auria’s account of the encounter with Somma reveals the emotion of the moment and the desire to share the work with the community.

Botticelli - Painting found

The “Virgin and Child” shows signs of the passage of time, with corrosion and evident discolouration and oxidation. The woman, portrayed as the Madonna delle Grazie, sits on a throne, holding the infant Jesus on her knees, wrapped in a lilac cloth while wearing a burgundy pleated tunic.

Authorities are currently investigating the legality of the Somma family’s possession, which has safeguarded the painting for over a century. Croce mentions that if it is proven that the family did not acquire the artwork properly, it will be transferred to the State and exhibited in a museum to ensure its safety.

The analysis conducted by a team of specialists in Naples reveals that the artwork is in a “critical” condition, with evident problems of discolouration and oxidation. As a precaution, under the Italian Ministry of Culture, the Central Institute for Restoration has directed that the painting be protected to ensure its integrity. The restoration process is estimated to take more than a year.


Considered one of the most prominent painters of the Italian Quattrocento, Sandro Botticelli left a significant artistic legacy with iconic works such as “La Primavera” and “The Birth of Venus.” His contribution to Renaissance art extends beyond Florence, where he worked for the Medici, including notable productions for the Sistine Chapel. The rediscovery of this lost artwork adds a new chapter to the rich history of the Renaissance master.

Sandro Botticelli, a brief biography

Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, better known as Sandro Botticelli, was born in 1445 in Florence, Italy. He was a prominent painter of the Italian Quattrocento or Early Renaissance. Botticelli was a student of Fra Filippo Lippi and Andrea de Verrocchio, and he excelled in various genres such as portraiture, history painting, religious painting, allegory, mythological painting, and sacred art.

Botticelli achieved significant recognition during his lifetime, being called to Rome in 1481 to decorate the Sistine Chapel with frescoes alongside other great masters. However, his posthumous reputation declined notably in the following centuries until it was revived in the late 19th century. His most famous works, “The Birth of Venus” and “Primavera”, are considered to epitomize the linear grace of Early Renaissance painting. Botticelli passed away on May 17, 1510, in Florence.