Two female figures painted onto the walls of the Vatican by Raphael more than 500 years ago have been rediscovered following a restoration project.
Representing Friendship and Justice, the two women are believed to have been painted by Raphael shortly before his death in 1520.
But their true value became hidden after his students added cherubs, soldiers and dragons to the walls surrounding his artwork following his death, causing his paintings to become lost inside the room’s detailed scenery.
Researchers discovered the paintings in the Room of Constantine in the Papal Apartments of the Vatican during a restoration project.
Raphael was commissioned by the Vatican to decorate four rooms inside the Apartments in 1508 but was believed to have died before he could complete the project.
Records state that Raphael’s plans for the room were executed by his assistants following his death.
However, rumours remained that Raphael had managed to add two oil paintings to the room before he died.
‘We know from 16th-century sources that Raphael painted two figures in this room as tests in the oil technique before he died,’ Arnold Nesselrath, a scientific researcher at the Vatican Museums, told La Stampa.
‘According to the sources, these two oil painted figures are of a much higher quality than the ones around them.’
‘Raphael was a great adventurer in painting and was always trying something different.
‘And so, when he arrived in the largest room of the papal apartment, he decided to paint this room in oil, but he managed to paint only two figures, and his students continued in the traditional method, leaving only these two figures as autographs of the master.’
During the project, researchers cleaned away centuries of previous restoration work to search for the rumoured oil paintings.
They then came across two paintings which bore the signature marks of Raphael.
Raphael’s work is highly regarded for its clarity of form and expression of human grandeur, according to historians.
Tests revealed that the figures were painted in oil, confirming that they were the work of Raphael.
‘By analysing the painting, we realised that it is certainly by the great master Raphael,’ said restorer Fabio Piacentini.
‘He painted in oil on the wall, which is a really special technique.
‘The cleaning and removal of centuries of previous restorations revealed the typical pictorial features of the master.’
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