John Marciari GRD ’00 may just have made the discovery of a lifetime.

In an article last week in Ars Magazine, Marciari, the former associate curator of early European art at the Yale University Art Gallery who is now the curator of European art at the San Diego Museum of Art, claimed that a battered canvas that has sat in the gallery’s storage for nearly a century is an early work by the famed Spanish court painter Diego Velázquez.

“The Education of the Virgin,” which depicts the Virgin Mary learning to read, was likely painted in 1617, Marciari said. If authentic, the piece would be among the earliest known works by the artist, painted by Velázquez when he was just 18 years old and still working in his hometown of Seville.

Yale has since x-rayed the canvas and confirmed that it was mounted in the same way as Velázquez’s early works. Experts from the Prado Museum in Madrid, where Velázquez’s masterpiece, “Las Meninas,” is on display, have so far reserved judgment, though they are also in the process of examining the work.

Once experts have seen the canvas, the piece is set to undergo restoration to be ready for display in 2012, just in time for the completion of the Gallery renovations.

“I told myself that I must be crazy — I spent six months trying to convince myself the painter was someone else,” Marciari told Spanish news agency EFE last week.

The last Velázquez to be sold at auction, a portrait of Saint Rufina, went for £8.42 million (roughly $13 million) at the London Sotheby’s in 2007. The sale was a record price paid for a work by Velázquez.