A discoloured painting which hung in a parish church for more than 100 years has been linked to the Renaissance master Titian.
The Last Supper was gifted to St Michael and All Angels Church in Ledbury, Herefordshire, in 1909.
Art historian Ronald Moore believes he has now discovered Titian’s signature on the canvas during restoration work.
„It always had a feel of Titian about it, but I could never identify it… now we have a breakthrough,“ he said.
Mr Moore was approached by the church to research and then restore the vast painting – which is more than 12ft wide (3.6m) – about three years ago.
He and assistant Patricia Kenny have since spent 11,000 hours trying to establish links with the 16th Century Venetian artist.
Tiziano Vecellio, better known as Titian, was the greatest painter of the Venetian school and one of Italy’s most important High Renaissance artists.
Mr Moore said his discovery of an under-drawing – done by hand – indicated to him that was something only a „major painter“ would do.
Using ultra-violet light, he then discovered Titian’s signature on a jug on the bottom left of the painting, as well as matching the face of an apostle to Titian himself after superimposing a self-portrait on top.
Two boys in the painting resemble two of Titian’s children and, based on his research, Mr Moore believes the painting was altered to become a family portrait.
Mr Moore said the picture was commissioned by a Venetian convent decades before it was completed in 1576, the year Titian died.
„He was a very popular and busy artist and I think he just never got time to work on it and finish it,“ Mr Moore said.
„When Titian died, the plague was around and a lot of people were dying and I think that perhaps influenced his son to turn the painting into a family portrait.“
The artist had a large workshop in Venice where artists and writers would congregate and Mr Moore said two or three other artists may also have worked on the piece.
„Although he instigated the design with his son, it does not mean he painted it completely or even did much of the painting.
„The exciting part is, that this is an undiscovered painting from Titian’s workshop,“ he said.