Chronology : 15th century 1460-1479 1480-1499 16th century 1500-1519 1520-1529 17th century 1600-1609 1610-1619 1620-1629
1470-1475 Descent into Limbo, by Mantegna
2003 SOLD for $ 28.6M including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2020
On January 23, 2003, Sotheby's sold for $ 28.6M including premium a Descent of Christ into Limbo, tempera and gold on canvas 39 x 42 cm painted circa 1470-1475. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
This theme is rare because it is only told in apocryphal scriptures. Between the Passion and the Resurrection, Christ makes a visit to Limbo where the virtuous patriarchs wait for the Messiah to open to them the gates of Paradise, closed since the fault of Adam.
The figures are standing on two floors as if by an ingenious theater machinery. Christ is seen from the back, bent over to comfort a patriarch who comes out at mid length from the abyss. At the same level as Christ in this world of the dead, five characters pray, four on the left and one on the right. They are naked except for a modest cloth around the belt.
The composition is designed with a remarkable balance divided in its center by the stick of Christ, creating a strong narrative tension although the main character, Christ, is not recognizable. Mantegna was possibly influenced by Donatello's formal studies for the interaction between the characters. Once again his independence from the traditional Christian iconography is extraordinary for his time.
1480 The Image Holder
2021 SOLD for $ 92M including premium
The earliest is a 58 x 44 cm tempera painted around 1474, kept in the Uffizi Gallery. The added element is a gilded gesso medal bearing the effigy of Cosimo de Medici. The second, 58 x 39 cm tempera painted around 1480, will be sold by Sotheby's in New York on January 28, lot 15. Its added element is an icon of an elderly bearded saint painted on a gold background.
In both cases, there is no doubt that Botticelli designed and made the recess in the wood to place the insert. The position of the fingers around the added object is very precise. However, we can legitimately question if the currently inserted piece is original.
Cosimo's medal probably meets the artist's original intention. The Quattrocento portraits are painted with great care in the physiognomy, but also with elements that symbolize the social position, character or life of the model. The Lady with an Ermine painted by Leonardo in 1489 is a perfect example. The medal inserted in Botticelli's painting is a tribute of the model to the founder of the political power of the Medici.
The image of the bearded saint is an authentic fragment of a Sienese painting from the Trecento. The absence of an attribute to identify the saint is an anomaly if we consider the importance given to it by its holder. It may have been inserted later to replace another detached or damaged image.
Beyond these doubts, both paintings are direct witnesses of the iconographic inventiveness of one of the greatest masters of the Quattrocento.
The portrait of the young man holding the icon is in an exceptional state of conservation. This unidentified prince is sympathetic by his desire to have his medallion admired. His attitude is straight. The dark mauve pigment of the tunic is luxurious and rare. The December 4 press release reveals an estimate in excess of $ 80M. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
Madonna of the Magnificat by BOTTICELLI
Tondi were a fashion of the time for a private devotion and contemplation above eye level. Botticelli managed to have the lines modified to match a perfect view in that position.
The Madonna and Child are surrounded by five angels, two of them holding a crown over Mary's head. The Child raises his head to look at the crown and puts his hand on an illuminated book. The text of the book is identified as two canticles from the Gospel of Luke.
The Madonna holds a quill to write the left page which is the opening of the Magnificat also referred as the Song of Mary. The left hands of Mother and Child join to hold a pomegranate, the heart shaped symbol of the Passion. That co-ordinated movement of the two hands of the two leading characters is beautiful.
later 1480s Replica
2022 SOLD for $ 48M by Christie's
This tempera, oil and gold on a 63 cm tondo panel is largely autograph as evidenced by underdrawings and pentimenti revealed by infrared and x-ray inspection. The style of the lines argues for a date in the later 1480s.
The composition is simplified to match with the smaller format. The two angels and the crown have been removed, making more mystical the raised gaze of the Child. The three remaining angels are now winged.
A selection of works from the collection of the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen—including a work by Cézanne with an estimate in excess of $120m—are on show at @ChristiesInc London this weekend prior to their sale in New York next month. https://t.co/jcI3Jaz2n9— The Art Newspaper (@TheArtNewspaper) October 15, 2022
1500 Between Last Supper and Mona Lisa
2017 SOLD for $ 450M including premium
The picture shows Christ holding the orb of the world in his left hand and blessing with the raised fingers of his right hand. The mystical message without the divine attribute of the halo competes with the holy shrouds recognized as authentic at his time while adding attitude and gesture. The orb that prophesies the rescue of the world is a reflective crystal ball through which the viewer perceives the palm of the hand.
This painting had belonged to King Charles I of England. It was probably hanging in the private apartments of Queen Henriette who was born in the French royal family. Its previous whereabouts are unknown. A possible hypothesis is a French royal order during the Italian wars. King Louis XII was so impressed by the Last Supper that he wanted to take the wall to France.
The analyzes provided a lot of information on the realization and history of this painting. The perfection of the expression is concentrated in the lips and the gaze, anticipating the Mona Lisa. The mouth was drawn by the technique of pierced drawing used by other great masters of that time including Raphael and Andrea del Sarto. One of the eyes was softened by a spread of color pushed by the wrist of the artist.
Leonardo cared little for the supporting materials. The conservation woes of the Last Supper are famous. The original panel of Salvator Mundi was early split because of a knot in the wood. The accident caused awkward repainting on the face. Anonymous owners then extended these repaints to the point that only peripheral regions including the hands were still visible in their original quality.
All of that has been conscientiously repaired. Fortunately the sfumato remained in very good condition under the disagreeable layers that were removed. This signature Leonardo technique makes it possible to compare the Salvator Mundi with the Mona Lisa which is the culmination of his art. The perfectionist preparation of his paintings could last several years. A date around 1500 is plausible for the Salvator Mundi.
Christ the savior of the world by Leonardo, oil on panel 66 x 46 cm, will be sold by Christie's in New York on November 15, lot 9 B. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
1500-1510 The Man of Sorrows by Botticelli
2022 SOLD for $ 45M by Sotheby's
Botticelli's art changed. The time of his signature theme of the Virgin of Tenderness was over. He possibly was not reluctant with the new trend. After the fall of the dictatorship in 1498, Botticelli's studio was sometimes used by his brother for secret meetings of Savonarola's sympathizers.
A mid length life size figure of Christ is typical of that new mood. Botticelli painted it in tempera and oil by canceling a Virgin of Tenderness on a panel 69 x 51 cm.
The main theme is a Man of Sorrows. The iconography of this specific piece goes far beyond up to a global representation of the Passion including Redemption and Resurrection.
The image is blending the human and the divine. The full frontal face has an expression of suffering temperated with a desire to confront and convince. The gaze goes straight to the viewer, just like Leonardo's Salvator Mundi and Dürer's self portrait made at that same period otherwise marked by the fear of a mid-millennium apocalypse.
The divine is represented by the bleeding wounds of the thorns and by the stigmata of the Crucifixion in the hands. The unprecedented move of this unique picture is the replacement of the halo by a circle of angels in grisaille that reluctantly display the instruments of his torture such as the ladder, the scourge and the lance.
There is no similar example known in Christian iconography. We will never know whether the master executed it for his own salvation or for proposing a new theme which still had no follow when he died in 1510.
The painting surfaced in the mid 19th century in a family of famous English actors and was authenticated as an autograph work by Botticelli when it was sold at Sotheby's in 1963. Further studies are now confirming that prestigious attribution. It was sold for $ 45M on January 27, 2022 by Sotheby's, lot 14. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
1529 Portrait of a Halberdier by Pontormo
1989 SOLD for $ 35 M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2020
The Portrait of a Halberdier is an oil (or oil and tempera) on panel transferred to canvas 95 x 73 cm. This arrogant young man with a smooth and beardless face who is bulging his chest to the limit does not look like an infantry soldier. He is too richly dressed : he is an aristocrat.
By its military theme, this image enters into the context of the siege of Florence by the imperial armies in 1529. This date is all the more plausible as it corresponds to the period of greatest creativity of Pontormo, who will soon cease to resist his mental disorders.
Under these conditions, the young man is probably Francesco Guardi, aged fifteen. The wearing of the halberd would be a pun associated with the function of guardian evoked by his patronym.
The Portrait of a Halberdier was sold for $ 35M including premium by Christie's on May 31, 1989. It was purchased at this sale by the J. Paul Getty Museum. The image is shared by Wikimedia. Because of its great pictorial quality, experts want to recognize in this portrait a work that was specifically admired by Vasari.
1609 Salome by Rubens
2023 SOLD for $ 27M by Sotheby's
He was bringing to his home country the new Baroque trends in Italian art. Highly influenced by the art of Caravaggio, he features heavily emotional scenes, with dynamic and complex compositions, violent lights, bodies twisted by hatred or despair. He uses skinned figures as models for his scary naked soldiers.
He had come back to Antwerp for family reasons, but political circumstances were particularly favorable for the start of his business. In April 1609, the Antwerp treaty is ending the war between Spain and the United Provinces.
In July, Rubens is appointed court painter to the Archduke. He exercises his art for the very important commissions from the churches of Antwerp finally liberated from the wars of religion, and also for private clients.
The Italian influence on Rubens is attested by the Italianisation of his first name from Peter Paul to Pietro Paolo just before his hurried leave from Rome to Antwerp.
Salome being presented with the head of Saint John the Baptist is an early, and possibly the earliest, example of the transfer to Flanders by Rubens in 1609 of the new Baroque style.
Rubens had in mind to picture the most horrifying scenes of Bible and of Greco-Roman mythology, in the follow of Titian and Caravaggio.
He brought from Italy to Antwerp a lot of preparation drawings for this big bang of his career. The figures of over-muscular men had their inspiration in Michelangelo's sculptures and van Tetrode"s écorchés. The artist reused his drawings for his finished compositions and did not use chalk or graphite underdrawings. He also made outlinings during his process of painting.
In this breakthrough series, the psychologically complex scenes provide a full contrast between brute men and merciless women. Secondary characters such as maid women may provide intermediate feelings including a repulsion from what is happening.
The decision to decapitate the Baptist was his speaking against the royal incest of Herod with Salome's mother Herodias. A highly shocking detail of Rubens's picture is the old maid pulling the offending tongue while presenting the cut off head on a charger to a sententious Salome. That head is gliding on its blood. Another disturbing detail is the foot of the executioner on the naked back of the martyred saint. Bluish tones are added to the still bleeding corpse.
The Salome, oil on oak panel 94 x 102 cm, surfaced in 1666 in an inventory of the Royal Spanish collection. It is believed that it had been commissioned by a Spanish patron taking the advantage of the end of the Flemish war for enjoying the new art.
It was sold for $ 27M by Sotheby's on January 26, 2023, lot 5. Please watch the video shared by the auction house. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
1610 The Massacre of the Innocents by Rubens
2002 SOLD for £ 50M including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2020
Highly influenced by the art of Caravaggio at that time, Rubens shows heavily emotional scenes, with dynamic and complex compositions, violent lights, bodies twisted by hatred or despair. He uses skinned figures as models for his scary naked soldiers.
Two paintings made for private use at the beginning of this new phase entered together in 1702 in the collection of the princes of Liechtenstein. After a loss of traceability in the inventories of the Liechtenstein collection, the two artworks were later attributed to an assistant from the end of career of Rubens named Jan van den Hoecke.
Samson et Delilah is an oil on wood 185 x 205 cm originally painted for the collection of the Lord Mayor of Antwerp. The theme of the colossus neutralized by the ingenuity of women, staged at the fatal moment, may be compared with the Judith of Caravaggio. The original version was authenticated in 1929 and sold by Christie's on July 11, 1980 for £ 2.53M including premium.
The Massacre of the Innocents (De kindermoord te Bethlehem) was known by a copy kept in Brussels. The version attributed to van den Hoecke is brought for sale to Sotheby's. Comparing this 142 x 182 cm oil on wood with the Samson and Delilah, the expert of the auction house recognizes that he has in his hands the real original by Rubens.
This reattribution is convincing. The Massacre of the Innocents is sold for £ 50M including premium by Sotheby's on July 10, 2002 over a lower estimate of £ 4M. Here is the link to the pre sale press release. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
1610 is considered as the most likely year for the creation of this artwork. The background of the image does not show Bethlehem but the temple of Castor and Pollux, proving that Rubens was still dazzled by the beauties of Rome. It has been also considered as a reminiscence from the atrocities of the religious wars. It is undoubtedly a masterpiece by Rubens, in a near perfect condition.
1614 Rubens in front of Sodom
2016 SOLD for £ 45M including premium
In Italy, Rubens had admired Titian. In the north, he sees the increasingly risqué themes by Goltzius and Wtewael. Taboos fall : Bible and mythology offer erotic stories through moral excuses.
On July 7 in London, Christie's sells as lot 12 Lot and his daughters, oil on canvas 190 x 225 cm painted by Rubens circa 1614. This painting is a rediscovery : it had not been seen since a failed attempt of sale in 1904 and 1905 and its re-inspection pushes it among the masterpieces of the artist.
Rubens offers here a three character scene of high psychological complexity. In 1608, François de Sales judged that the story of Lot was not an incest but a forgivable sin. Lot is a nice old drunkard, like Noah.
In his great compositions from this phase of his career, Rubens wisely mixes nude and clothing. Although the bare flesh is the main target of the work, such a mingled attire brings presence and actuality to his antique theme. Samson and Delilah, the Massacre of the Innocents and the Drunken Silenus are other famous examples.
The abundant flesh is processed in an impasto that allows subtle variations of light and texture and promotes the sensual effect despite the advanced age of the man. Lot and his daughters remained in excellent condition in which only an aging varnish may be slightly blamed.
The artist had carefully read the Genesis : the two women were not made pregnant in the same day and only one is naked, ready but also worrying for the act. Her sister is closer to the father, with the charming smile of a woman who is achieving her conspiracy. The attitude and indeed the splendidly haggard gaze of the man express his full intoxication that encourages the nude girl to pour the wine once again. The Silenus will reuse similar characters in 1616.
Please watch the video shared by Christie's. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
1621 Mystical Loves in Genova
2016 SOLD for $ 30.5M including premium
In 1621, he is invited by the wealthy Genovese merchant Giovanni Antonio Sauli, son of a former Doge of that city, to work in his palazzo as a painter and as an artistic adviser. Gentileschi executes three monumental paintings on the theme of mystical love, an excuse for displaying sensual nudes.
Sublimating the religions, the artist chooses his stories in the Old Testament, Christian parables and Greek myths. Lot's daughters symbolize the expectation, Danae the annunciation and Magdalene the repentance. Success is immediate and in the practice of his time the artist himself will paint a few copies.
The three original paintings of the Palazzo Sauli have long remained in the descendance of the patron. Danae, oil on canvas 161 x 227 cm, is estimated $ 25M for sale by Sotheby's in New York on January 28, lot 41.
The princess lies on her unmade bed. She is nude excepted a veil of chastity. Cupid opens the curtains to let going the lightning of Jupiter in the form of a shower of golden coins and ribbons. The gesture of the young woman is peaceful and welcoming, with her arm raised in the same oblique direction as the movement of the fertilizing god disguised as gold.
Gentileschi had been too often described as a Caravaggian but his Danae is a masterpiece of late profane mannerism. I invite you to watch the video shared by Sotheby's where the monumental nature of the artwork is highlighted. The image is shared by Wikimedia.