Long-lost King Henry VIII tapestry found in NYC rug gallery?

A lost treasure of the English monarchy may have just been found in a New York City rug gallery. The missing artwork cost King Henry VIII millions of dollars and vanished sometime after his death in the 16th century.

It all started with a Google search by a Cambridge professor, reports CBS News correspondent Tony Dokoupil. She was just looking for a tapestry replica, an image to use to in lecture. But did she stumble upon the real thing?

Scholars Roger Michel and Alexy Karenowska are on the trail of English history.

“Is that King Henry’s wine stain?” Dokoupil asked. 

“You’ve put your finger on it. That’s exactly right,” Michel said, laughing.

In a high-end but hidden-away New York City rug gallery, they believe they may be looking at a treasure that once hung in the palace of King Henry VIII.

“This tapestry could have been the witness to extraordinary history,” Michel said. 

ctm-1229-tapestry-mystery-king-henry-viii.jpg

Could this be one of King Henry VIII’s missing tapestries depicting the life of Julius Caesar?

CBS News

King Henry commissioned 10 tapestries like it, each depicting the life of Julius Caesar. They cost the equivalent of tens of millions of dollars.  

“So we could be talking about the tapestry that helped bankrupt England?” Dokoupil asked. 

“We could be, yes,” Michel said, chuckling.

But none of the 10 has been seen in hundreds of years.

“I think it’s absolutely clear that what we have here is something really very significant,” Karenowska said.

Michel and Karenowska say the tapestry is the right size, the right age and the right subject matter to match King Henry’s. Now they plan to test the work’s authenticity as part of the Institute of Digital Archeology, a group that uses technology to drill into the past. 

“What we hope to do is to get down into the weave and weft of this thing, and essentially take its fingerprints,” Michel explained. 

They joined the case after getting an email from Mary Beard, a classics professor at Cambridge University who came across an image of the tapestry on the shop’s website.

“It’s the new archeology in a way. Google is the new dust brush that folks look to to uncover lost treasures,” Michel said. 

In the centuries following their disappearance, the tapestries were reproduced. Even as copies, they were valuable treasures to modern historians.

Beard believes that the tapestry in the Persian Gallery is one of those replicas, telling CBS News she never thought it was an original Henry VIII tapestry. 

No one knows how the King Henry tapestries were lost, but the Persian Gallery picked up the tapestry at an auction nearly two decades ago. 

“We’ve been with it for a while, but now--” manager Rodney Hakim said. 

“You had no idea what you had?” Dokoupil asked.

“No, we are sitting on a treasure,” Hakim said. 

“They’re out there somewhere,” Michel said. 

“You believe they’re out there somewhere?”

“One could be sitting right behind you,” Michel said, laughing.

If this does turn out to be a King Henry VIII tapestry, Michel and Karenowska would like to see it returned to Henry’s palace at Hampton Court. As for how it was lost, one theory is that it was sent for cleaning -- and just never picked up.