Painting captured in police sting is by Raphael, says leading expert

The owner's careless sales technique led the carabinieri right to his doorstep

The Italian art world behaved in a characteristically excitable way when, last month, the carabinieri announced that they had enticed a missing, unpublished work by Raphael, the “Madonna with the Hay”, out of Switzerland with a bait of L40 billion (£16 million; $24 million). Art historical voices were raised for and against its authenticity, with the loudest insults (“It’s a bufala, a daub”) coming from Vittorio Sgarbi, populist art critic and politician. Leading art historian Federico Zeri, whose “eye” is legendary, told The Art Newspaper that he was certain the three foot by two foot oil on panel was indeed an unfinished work by Raphael dating from his Florentine period (1504-1508), and that it had belonged to the Dresdner Bank in 1927. The carabinieri were given the tip-off by the indiscreet behaviour of the most recent owner, a Brazilian painter living in Rome, who apparently had been offering it around the trade. He is now charged with smuggling and producing false documents. The painting is being held in Vicenza.