Vatican solves 500-year-old mystery

Posted at 12:48 PM, Dec 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-26 12:48:10-05

VATICAN CITY (CNN) – A pair of 500-year-old oil paintings by painter Raphael have been discovered in the Vatican.

For centuries, they remained unidentified until the Vatican began cleaning and restoring the walls.

The Renaissance master had already left his mark by painting frescoes in three rooms in the Hall of Constantine at the Vatican. But he was ready to move onto something new.

"It's an amazing feeling, knowing these were probably the last things he painted, you almost feel the real presence of the maestro," said Vatican restorer Dr. Fabio Piacentini.

A first clue to their existence can be found in a 15th century history book by Vasari, who said Raphael had begun to paint two images – the female figures for justice and friendship -- in a new experiment with oil.

Raphael planned to paint the whole wall in oil, instead of the traditional fresco technique, but died before he could finish. And the figures were lost in the midst of the frescoed paintings done after him.

To the expert eye, it was clear that these two figures, were not like the others.

"The way the paintbrush moves, even the subtlety of the point of the brushes used to create the small wisps of hair," said Piacentini.

Although it may have been clear to the expert eye, it was science that clinched the deal.

An infrared photo confirmed to the restorers that the two figures were not like the rest. The oil paintings clearly show through with advanced technology.

The discovery is a major one for the Vatican Museums. Restoration will take until at least 2022.

"It's probably one of the most important projects of the last decades, apart from the Sistine Chapel,” said Barbara Jatta, the director Vatican Museums.

And with so much history and artwork available at the Vatican, this may not be the last big surprise.

"We are searching, still researching,” Jatta said. “That's the good point of the research, it never ends."

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