Rare Holbein work bought for a few thousand could fetch millions

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The painting was thought to be a reproduction of the Renaissance artist's work and bought for just £1,900 at an auction in France.

But, after cleaning and expert analysis, it emerged the work is a genuine Holbein and as such is worth millions.

The unnamed Swiss collector, who owns the work, discovered the painting at a sale of heirlooms and bric-a-brac. The sale was linked to the once-stately Lamoignon family, who had connections to Holbein through another painting, The Ambassadors, which now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

However the portrait was thought to be by one of the great man's imitators when the painting of Erasmus, the Dutch scholar, came up for sale as the family sold off the last of the heirlooms in 2000.

Marco Grassi, a New York conservator who was at the auction, said he advised the Swiss collector to make the purchase, which cost 2,000 euros.

When the crude background had been removed a painting created by Holbein emerged. The hands, book and fur had been painted in the style of the artist and infrared photography showed that the underdrawing for the hands also resembled Holbein's methods.

Hans Holbein the Younger, a German artist, painted many of the great men and women of Europe in the early 16th Century but is perhaps most famous in England for his portraits of the Tudors...

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