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BRUSSELS, Sept 7 (AFP) - A "Descent from the Cross" painted by Peter Paul Rubens in 1602 has been discovered in a private collection in Germany, the Belgian weekly Knack reported Wednesday, citing an expert in the Flemish master's early works.
The large oil painting inspired by the Gospels will be shown for the first time starting Friday in the northern Italian city of Mantua, where Rubens (1577-1640) lived in the early 17th century, Justus Mueller Hofstede told the Dutch-language magazine.
The German expert said the work measuring 200 by 255 centimeters (about 80 by 100 inches), commissioned by the Duchess of Mantua Eleonora Gonzaga, was not previously identified because it had been blackened by candle smoke.
"In 2002, a German collector showed me this completely restored canvas. I said to myself: 'This is a young Rubens, a Descent from the Cross'," he said.
"I was convinced because of the existence of a copy ordered by a prince of the Gonzaga family. I went to Mantua to look at the copy. It completely matched the German collector's painting," he added.
Since then, documents found in the Italian city and a style analysis led the expert to attribute it "100 percent" to Rubens, said the Bonn University professor, who is to publish his findings this week.
But another Rubens expert, Hans Vlieghe of the Rubenianum, a documentation center for the study of Rubens and 16th- and 17th-century Flemish art in Antwerp, Belgium, cast doubt on the authenticity of the painting.
"From what I know of Rubens, I don't find any indication to make me suppose that it could be one of his paintings. At the most, it's a copy of some lost work or pother," the Belga news agency quoted Vlieghe as saying.
"The picture that was discovered is actually an anonymous 17th-century painting that was sold a few years ago in Antwerp without any particular mention," he said.
Rubens, the most "Flemish" of the Netherlands masters along with Pieter Bruegel the Elder and one of the most influential artists of the 17th century, was prolific, producing more than 2,000 works, noted for biblical scenes and his celebration of full-figured female nudes.
He is among the few Old Masters whose previously unknown works are still emerging.
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