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New research sheds light on "missing" Dandini masterpiece found in New Rochelle

Missing 17th century masterpiece found hanging in New Rochelle church
Missing 17th century masterpiece found hanging in New Rochelle church 02:13

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. - It's the next chapter in an art world mystery: A missing masterpiece, found hanging in plain sight inside a New Rochelle church

Now, there's evidence of the painting's importance and value. 

As CBS2's Tony Aiello reports, for 60 years, worshippers at the Church of the Holy Family had no idea a painting purchased in Rome by a former pastor was a masterpiece experts thought had been lost. 

"I can never forget my immediate reaction when I saw this painting. I was shocked," said Iona University art historian Tom Ruggio. 

Ruggio stopped to pray at the church in 2020, looked up and had a revelation. 

"I knew it was a baroque masterpiece," Ruggio said. 

A 17th century work by Italian master Cesare Dandini. Publicity and a showing at Iona last year prompted many with old paintings to contact Ruggio, including a man in Spain who thought he had a Dandini, too - a version of the same painting of the holy family with infant John the Baptist. 

Ruggio traveled to Madrid in July and immediately spotted key differences. 

"This is delicately applied, but confident," Ruggio explained, describing brushwork on the New Rochelle painting's depiction of St. John. The same section in the Madrid painting "is the work of an artist who is trying to keep up with the masterpiece," Ruggio said.

An expert in Spain agreed the Madrid painting is a copy of the original in New Rochelle. 

"What does studying this painting in Madrid tell you about this painting in New Rochelle?" Aiello said. 

"The Madrid copy ... speaks to the importance of the New Rochelle painting," Ruggio said. 

So important, Dandini allowed an apprentice to copy the original for practice, or perhaps for profit. 

"A workshop copy would sell for a little less than a work by the hand of the master," Ruggio said. 

It's a quite a treasure for a suburban parish church. 

"People want to see the painting. They come to see it. They enjoy it. We keep the church open so they can come in and visit," said Monsignor Dennis Keane. 

The church has boosted security and its insurance - the Dandini is likely worth at least $1 million. 

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