Mystery painting really a Vermeer; DNA test used on ink

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The enigmatic painting "St. Praxedis" has long mystified art experts, but now this riddle seems to be solved. It really belongs to Johann Vermeer, as "DNA tests" carried out by experts of Christie's auction have recently shown.

Debates about the real origin of the painting have lasted for years. The picture represents St. Praxedis, an early Christian martyr. It is close to works of the 17-century Italian painter Felice Ficherelli. The canvas bears the signature of "Meer," but the artist had not previously been confirmed. The choice of the picture's subject and some characteristics of the artistic style had made it unlikely to be one of Vermeer's paintings. Recent research by the Rijksmuseum and Amsterdam's Vrije Universiteit helped prove that "St. Praxedis" can be considered a part of Vermeer's legacy. The analysis of the white lead paint on the picture has shown that it is identical to the paint used by Vermeer in his picture "Diane and her Nymphs". So, "St. Praxedis" now can be considered to be the earliest known work of the Dutch master. Henry Pettifer, the Old Masters' experts at Christie's, says that Vermeer was a young man of 20, a new convert to Catholicism in 1655 when he painted this picture. It makes his choice of the subject very understandable. Christie's auction house will put "St. Praxedis" on sale at the beginning of July. It will cost about 6-8 million pounds (7.3-9.8 million euros). This work was in the collection of Barbara Piasecka Johnson, the art collector who died last year. Now, it is considered one of only two privately owned Vermeer's works. Zack Newmark contributed to this report.

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