Retrato de niña o Joven Inmaculada (Portrait of a Girl or Young Immaculate), an oil painting billed as an early work by Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) that sold for €8m (£7m) at Abalarte in Madrid.

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Four days before sale the work had been declared an object of ‘great cultural interest’, and was subject to export restrictions.

The Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport had concluded “in the absence of more complete technical reports, everything seems to indicate that it is a work attributable to Velázquez”.

The 22 x 17in (57 x 44cm) painting Retrato de niña o Joven Inmaculada (Portrait of a Girl or Young Immaculate) was discovered in an old family collection by consultant Richard de Willermin.

Although little is known of Velázquez’s early life, de Willermin believes the subject could be the young artist’s sister, with this picture painted around 1616-17 in Seville.

Seville period work

It would be one of just a handful of pictures known from this period. X-ray analysis on the newly discovered picture suggests that overpaint conceals a crown of stars similar to that in Immaculate Conception, 1618-19, in London’s National Gallery.

The auction house had been cautious not to release an estimate before the sale but bidding opened at €8m.

The picture received a single bid with the buyer paying €9.7m with premium – a record for an Old Master in Spain.

Gonzalo Mora, director at Abalarte, told ATG the decision to notify the picture as an ‘unexportable good’ dampened international enthusiasm.

“There was a great deal of interest in the piece from first rate collections, both institutional and private, but several withdrew when the painting was declared unexportable.”

Mora said it was incorrect to assume the buyer was Spanish.

De Willermin has a reputation for unearthing lost masterworks. In 2003 he found two small religious paintings by Francisco de Goya, later bought for the Prado at €1.75m.