Poland’s long-lost “Portrait of a Young Man,” missing for over half a century and widely considered to be the most important painting missing since World War II, has been discovered in a bank vault in an undisclosed location. A spokesman for the country’s Office for the Restitution of Cultural Goods, a division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Polish media outlets that he is confident the painting will be returned to Poland. “Most importantly, the work was not lost in the turmoil of the war. It has not been burnt or destroyed. It exists. It is safely waiting in a region of the world where the law favors us.” He declined to reveal the country in which the painting was found.
The oil painting, completed around 1513-1514, is attributed to the High Renaissance Master Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, or Raphael. Many art historians believe that the painting is actually a self-portrait of the artist, as the facial features of the youth in the painting resemble those of Raphael’s only other self-portrait–the fresco “The School of Athens” at the Vatican.
The painting was purchased by Poland’s Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski in 1789, together with Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine,” painted around 1489-90, and several other Roman antiquities. It was confiscated from the Czartoryski family’s collection in Krakow by the Nazis in 1939 for Hitler’s Fuhrermuseum, his personal museum in Linz. The painting was last seen in 1945, when Hans Frank, governor of the General Government, took the painting to Wawel Castle for his own personal use. It has been missing ever since.
The Czartoryski family has made consistent attempts to find the painting since the end of World War II but were hampered by the fact that Poland was behind the Iron Curtain. The family renewed its efforts in 1991. Historians, art scholars, and many in the international community await new developments as the exciting story unfolds.