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Thought to have been bought in Florence in the early 19th century by Sir Edward Sherlock Gooch, 6th Bt., the finely preserved 10in by 8in (26 x 20.5cm) gold-ground panel painting of the Madonna and Child enthroned with two angels was first found last December by Richard Charlton-Jones of Sotheby's Old Master department.

Charlton-Jones's subsequent researches, in conjunction with Dr. Dillian Gordon of the National Gallery, have revealed that the painting came from the same tabernacle or altarpiece as an identically-sized and tooled panel of the Flagellation of Christ, often attributed to Cimabue, in the Frick Collection, New York.

International scholars now accept Sotheby's discovery to be one of only six or seven independent panel paintings that are firmly attributable to Cimabue, the Florentine artist who is generally regarded as the first major name in the history of Western painting. It is the only known Cimabue in private hands.

The painting is due to be included in Sotheby's June 6 Old Master Paintings sale in London, estimated at “in excess of £2m”, though quite how much in excess remains a matter of speculation as no Cimabue has ever been sold at auction before.

The last major gold-ground painting to be sold at auction was a Crucifixion attributed to Duccio which sold for £1m at Christie's back in July, 1976 and is now in the Manchester City Art Gallery.

Hardly less rare nowadays is the prospect of a three-day country house sale of the contents of Benacre Hall, which Sotheby's will be holding on the premises from May 9-11. The late Sir John Gooch was obsessively reclusive – he would only allow his television to be repaired if his butler held it out of a window for the repairman to work on – and the 1500 lots of furniture, paintings and works of art which had been collected by 12 generations of his family are billed by Sotheby's as “a forgotten treasure trove”.