The Times has reported over the weekend that a previously undiscovered work by Francis Bacon has been found in a warehouse in northern Italy.

The work is a prototype for his now-iconic series depicting a screaming Pope, created in twisted homage to Velazquez’s Pope Innocent X 1650 (Bacon famously collected numerous books featuring reproductions of Velazquez’s painting, but did not see the real thing until almost 10 years after his studies began when he visited Rome in 1954.)

The discovery was made by art expert Martin Harrison while compiling Bacon’s catalogue raisonée, a guide to all of his (known) paintings – 584 of them; due to be published at the end of June.

It is believed the painting, Landscape with Pope/Dictator, was created in around 1946, when he was working in the South of France; he worked on variations of these Pope studies for the next 20 years, producing at least 45 variants that we know about. Previously, the oldest surviving work from this series had been thought to be Head VI, which dates back to 1949.

The almost obsessive re-working of the subject in his studies, have lead many art critics to suggest that it held further psychological significance to him because of his sexuality, taboo, in the Catholic upbringing he had experienced. When Bacon was asked why he was compelled to revisit the subject so often, Bacon replied that he had nothing against the Popes, that he merely sought “an excuse to use these colours, and you can’t give ordinary clothes that purple colour without getting into a sort of false fauve manner.”