Chronology : 1150-1300 15th century 1460-1479 1480-1499 16th century 1500-1519 1520-1529 17th century 1600-1609 1610-1619 1660-1679 1980-1989 1986
1280 Devotion with Cimabue
2019 SOLD for € 24M including premium
In 1272 in Rome, a notarial act mentions as a witness a Florentine painter identified as "Cimabove". It is a nickname, meaning Head of Ox. This allusion to his obstinacy indicates that his maturity was already recognized. In his corpus which was certainly important, only one painting was documented during his lifetime. It was in February 1302, just before his death.
Two elements from a devotional work are formally attributed to Cimabue and dated around 1280 by Wikipedia. They are painted with egg tempera and gold background on a thick poplar board. The analysis of the edges made it possible to position the Madonna and Child as the top left of a panel and the Flagellation as the bottom right.
The Passion of Christ cannot end with the flagellation. Both paintings were part of the left panel of a diptych whose elements were cut long time ago as singles for a mercantile purpose. The whole hypothetical right panel is lost. Diptychs and polyptychs were common practice. Small in size, they were folded to be easily carried from one place of worship to another.
A third opus has just surfaced, on the theme of the Mocking of Christ. This piece of wood 25.8 x 20.3 cm with a pictorial surface of 24.6 x 19.6 cm is the element at the bottom left of the left panel. The edges perfectly match the other two elements, including the tunnels of the woodworms that had been severed during the separation.
This work is a fine example of a composition from the very beginning of the Italian Renaissance. The characters are human and the drapes are flexible. Christ is serene, contrasting with the emotion of the other characters. He is a little taller and his clothes are darker. The perspective is clumsy, with the inversion of a roof : at that time, engineers have not yet developed the relevant geometry.
The crowd is dense on both sides of Christ, with an undeniable although very subtle coordinated movement. The characters on the right, who include the thorn-crown setter, are pushing together while the fellows on the left resist this pressure for maintaining the standing Christ.
There is no auction history for any authentic artwork by Cimabue. The Mocked Christ is estimated between € 4M and 6M for sale on October 27 in Senlis by Actéon, an auction house that operates mainly in Compiègne. Please read the article prepared by the Interenchères bidding platform and watch the video shared by Artcento. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
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.
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
1495-1498 Ultima Cena by Leonardo
Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milano
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.
1520 Study for the Transfiguration
2012 SOLD 29.7 M£ including premium
Working directly for popes, cardinals and the powerful Medici family, Raphael manages a workshop of fifty artists whose production is prolific, but he himself designs the artworks, performs the preparation and executes the most important paintings.
The fashion of the time is for large-size frescoes and altar paintings prepared by innumerable drawings. Once the artist is satisfied with the composition, he pierces the latest drawings to transfer the lines into the final work. The pierced modello drawing of the head of a Vatican Muse was sold £ 29.1 million including premium at Christie's on December 8, 2009.
On December 5 in London, Sotheby's sells a drawing in black chalk, 38 x 28 cm, from the collection of the Dukes of Devonshire. It is illustrated in the article shared by Bloomberg.
This head of an apostle in meditation was made during the preparation of the Transfiguration, that huge oil on canvas, 405 x 278 cm, unfinished at the untimely death of the artist.
Completed by his studio, this monumental painting marks a turning point in Western art. The composition in two registers is bold. Above, Christ enters the light. The bright representation of the event is an iconographic challenge which anticipates Rembrandt.
Down on Earth, the apostles are attending a miracle by Christ, each one reacting in his own way. The care taken in the empathy between these men is announcing Mannerism and Baroque art.
The drawing for sale is not final and has not been pierced. This is a beautiful portrait of expression, with very nice thin line. It is estimated £ 10M.
POST SALE COMMENT
On December 8, 2009, a perforated drawing by Raphael showing the head of a Muse was sold £ 29.1 million including premium.
The head of a young apostle got an almost identical price: £ 29.7 million including premium. It is a great success for its owner, the Duke of Devonshire, possessor at Chatsworth of one of the best art collections in the world.
I invite you to play the videos shared by Sotheby's.
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.
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.
1661 Saint James the Greater by Rembrandt
2007 SOLD for $ 26M including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2020
Around 1648 Rembrandt was in one of his frequent financially and socially difficult periods, and he would like his Supper at Emmaus, a modern painting on a biblical theme, to relaunch his career. The portraits of a young man as Christ are studies painted in parallel or for the preparation of this masterpiece. An oil on panel 25 x 21 cm was sold for £ 9.5M including premium by Sotheby's on December 5, 2018.
The artist is indeed satisfied with this personification of Christ. The same young man appears as a Christ in half length with folded arms, oil on canvas 110 x 90 cm generally dated between 1657 and 1661.
In 1661 Rembrandt paints a series of Apostles, looking again at what the like of some of Christ's companions could be. This set of oils on canvas is homogeneous by its format, around 92 x 75 cm, by its chromatic richness, and by the presence of a thin black border which has not always been preserved.
This corpus of six works including a self portrait as Saint Paul was not documented in period. They were painted in another difficult phase for the artist and may have been conceived as a new demonstrator of the ever increasing quality of his art.
Rembrandt's faith was complex. His father was from a Jewish family converted to the Reformed church and his mother was Catholic. His realism excludes an identification of the character's religious position by a halo. The half length portrait of an old pilgrim in neglected clothes enters through its pictorial characteristics in the series of the Apostles, and the differentiated history of the companions of Christ after the Passion makes it attribute to Saint James the Greater.
This portrait of a man with a face concentrated on his prayer, whose very large joined hands form the focal point of the image, is an allegory of a faith that transcends appearances, directly linked to the Gospels and without any reference to the Mendicant orders. .
This painting was sold for $ 26M including premium by Sotheby's on January 25, 2007, lot 74. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
1889 Le Christ Jaune by Gauguin
His life became a series of social woes. This uncompromising Christian rejects the Catholic teaching and liturgy but desires to interpret the mystery of life. At the time of the Christ Jaune, 1889, he surrounds the religious symbols with themes from modern life including his own self portrait. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
His voluntary exile in Polynesia brings him a synthesis of Christianity and animism. From then Gauguin's art is no more exclusively Christian. Painted in Tahiti in 1897-1898, D'où venons-nous Qui sommes-nous Où allons-nous, which is conceived by the artist as his ultimate masterpiece, does not refer to Western religions.
1986 Sacrifice and Sharing
2017 SOLD for $ 61M including premium
Warhol is working hard on this project that had everything to seduce him. For devout Catholics the Last Supper is the founding act of the mystical Christianity by which Christ announces his death and resurrection and especially his sharing with the whole mankind.
Warhol had himself something like a resurrection in 1968 when his heart restarted after the assassination attempt. He felt that he was going to die during the surgical operation of his gallbladder which was inevitable but was constantly postponed by him. This intuition was right.
In that impulse Warhol realized about 100 variations around Leonardo's Last Supper in 1986 while about 20 were enough for the Milan exhibition. He did not take as model the original painting but two poor photographs of old copies. This final project brilliantly terminates his own pop art revolution by which the visual message and the ability to copy and multiply it are more important than the skill even when the artist is Leonardo himself.
This series includes a few monumental pieces in a perfect repetition that reaches the infinite. Christ 112 times in yellow which is a reproduction of a detail measures 203 x 1069 cm. This artwork was sold for $ 9.5M including premium by Sotheby's on May 14, 2008.
On November 15 in New York, Christie's sells as lot 13 B a multiplication of the entire picture, Sixty Last Suppers. This 295 x 998 cm canvas which is undoubtedly the largest in the series and perhaps even in his entire career in terms of surface was not included in the Milan exhibition. Please watch the video shared by Christie's.