IT was once revered and loved as a classical image of the Father of the Gods, but for decades its whereabouts has been shrouded in mystery.

But a treasured, metre-high bust of Jupiter has now been rediscovered – gathering dust in the depths of an archive of ancient artefacts.

The marble figure, dating back about 1,800 years, had been secured under lock and key, along with 800,000 other antiquities in English Heritage’s main northern archaeological store in Helmsley, North Yorkshire.

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But it was only recently that experts began to closely examine it as part of the long process of conservation.

They discovered the bust was probably brought to England from Italy to become part of a famous collection of antiquities from the classical world owned by the Earl of Arundel in the 17th Century.

It was first documented in 1616, but the collection itself became dispersed later in the 17th Century.

However, about 100 years later, the bust fell into the hands of John Aislabie, an MP and wealthy owner of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, near Ripon.

It is believed it may then have taken pride of place in the Temple of Jupiter on the Studley Royal estate, adding a touch of authenticity to the 18th Century folly.

The years passed and the bust finally ended up in the Helmsley store and its provenance was lost.

However, its rediscovery has now been verified by Professor Michael Vickers, from Oxford University, the senior assistant keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, which holds the largest collection of Arundel marbles.

English Heritage curator Susan Harrison said: “The condition of the bust is pretty good, but it does need cleaning and further research.

“Because it is mentioned in 17th Century records, experts knew it existed, but they have searched for it in vain among the world’s collections of antiquities.

“But there it was all along, safe and sound and waiting to be rediscovered.”

The bust will now be one of the highlights of a series of free tours at the Helmsley store, which is normally offlimits to the public.

They begin on April 21 and continue until October. Bookings can be made from Monday at the tourist information centre in Helmsley Castle, on 01439-770442.