Raphael ranks among the greatest artists of all time. Yet they say he once sold what has since become a masterpiece for a bit of food. One evening the great painter saw a mother singing to her small child. He was inspired to paint the scene ─ but there was no canvas to paint on. Raphael discovered an old barrel nearby and used its round cover as his canvas. The story is that he sold the painting to a bar keeper for a meal worth less than fifty cents, though he was not a poor man. The Italian government sent the painting to the New York World’s Fair in 1939, where it was exhibited. It now hangs in a palace in Florence, Italy and is valued at over $1,000,000!

1)they say he once sold what has since become a masterpiece for a bit of food.

This sentence seems strange when it comes to "tense agreement". The main clause was put in the past tense, but the subordinate one was in written in the present perfect, which means "present". I don't think the tense of main clause could precede that of dependent clause.

By any chance is it right? If so, how do I understand it?

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It seems like you understand the different tenses well enough. Just break them down into their individual ideas.

"They say" is the first part. It just means that some people today say something about Raphael. "He once sold a painting for a bit of food." During his life, Raphael was hungry, and exchanged a painting for some food. "That painting has since become a masterpiece." Raphael valued the food more than the painting when he sold it, but since that time, more and more people have recognized it as a great painting, and today it is worth far more than a meal in a bar.

  • Really helpful except for the "understand the different tenses well enough" part. The present perfect doesn't "mean" present. – deadrat Jun 21 '16 at 2:20

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