Will the real Raphael please stand up?

There are two self-portraits of Renaissance artist Raphael. One has been hanging in a museum, the other has been in a bank vault. But which one is the real one, and which the impostor?

Half a millennium ago, Raphael was a master painter and architect. Revered even in his own time, he ran a busy workshop of artists. He left behind the iconic School of Athens, which shows the Greek philosophers gathered together in a public square; The Transfiguration, showing a shining Christ rising from a dark earth; and a warm tranquil self-portrait. Or two.

A painting that experts agree is the self-portrait of Raphael hangs in the Uffizi, a museum in Florence. That's the one you see on the left, above. Another has just come out of a bank vault, owned by private collectors. Both are dated back to the 1500s, but the Uffizi portrait's records have been traced to the 1700s, while the other portrait is a comparative newbie with a pedigree only known back to the 1880s. At that time it was in the possession of a Florentine family. An artist caught wind of it, and the art world responded the only way it knew how: By debating the matter for one hundred years. In the 1980s, the debate came to a head, when an art critic pronounced that the new self-portrait was undoubtedly a new Raphael self-portrait. Then the critic died, leaving the painting without a defender.

The now non-notable painting was put away in a bank vault, and has remained there until lately. Both paintings are of the same subject, in the same pose, wearing similar clothes painted in the same color tones. The 'new' one, however, is more ruddy and shadowed, without the perfect glowing gold skin of the Uffizi version. Could it be a fake or could the Uffizi have been displaying a knock-off? It's a mystery.

Get ready for The Raphael Code.

Via Discovery