For years it sat on a farmhouse wall gathering dust.
And when Fiona McLaren redecorated, she didn’t even take the time to cover the apparently worthless painting in a protective sheet, so it got flicked in specks of paint.
However, in an astounding twist it has emerged that the picture is likely to have been the work of master artist Leonardo da Vinci and worth over £100million.
The striking portrait, which shows woman embracing a young child, was nearly assigned to the rubbish tip on several occasions, but facing financial difficulties Ms McLaren, 59, from Scotland decided to take the painting to an expert for a valuation.
Auctioneer Harry Robertson, the director of Sotheby’s in Scotland, gasped when he saw the art 23ins by 28ins work which had hung on a landing and in a bedroom in London for decades, before being transferred to Scotland when Ms McLaren and her mother moved into a farmhouse
‘I showed it to him [Mr Robertson] and he was staggered, speechless save for a sigh of exclamation,’ said Ms McLaren, according to The People.
Mr Robertson took the work to London for further testing by specialists on old masters and next year the painting will be closely inspected by experts at the Hamilton Kerr Institute at the University of Cambridge, where it should be dated conclusively.
The work of art came into the possession of the McLaren family through Fiona’s late father George, a doctor who had received it as a gift from a patient in the 1960s.
When George died in 1979, the painting transferred to her mother who gave it to her daughter as a 40th birthday present.
Da Vinci paintings normally fetch in exces of £100million and a string of art experts have now shown excitement in this particular work.
Former Antiques Roadshow presenter Sebastian Thewes, an ex-director of Christie’s in Scotland said he believed that da Vinci, considered the greatest human mind who has ever lived, had a hand in the painting.
Other experts have stated that the painting is at the very least from the da Vinci school.
Professor Carlo Pedretti from the University of California said he thought it was by a Leonardo da Vinci pupil of a later generation, possibly the 16th century.
Ms McLaren said her father used to call the painting ‘Madonna and Child with John the Baptist, but having spent a decade researching the history of the work, the nurse believes the painting is actually not the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus, but Mary Magdalene and her son.
She thinks the true meaning of the artwork may have been disguised for centuries because such a work would have been considered heretic by the Roman Catholic Church.
The Pope decreed the Virgin Mary should be illustrated in blue whereas Mary Magdalene had to be shown in red attire, as depicted in this painting.
Leonardo, who excelled at not only painting, but also mathematics, engineering, architecture, sculpture, music and science, was known to hide meanings in his works and the fact the woman in the picture is holding a carnation could be a symbol for marriage.
Florida University-based Michael E Abrams said the picture was ‘brimming with sensuality’ with the artist taking a tremendous risk of being burned at the stake for heresy after the Pope was re-established in Rome.