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Chronology : 1150-1300 15th century 1460-1479 16th century 1500-1519 1520-1539 17th century 1620-1629 18th century 1720-1729 1730-1739 1760-1769 1964
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.
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.
1510 The Codex Leicester of Leonardo da Vinci
1994 SOLD for $ 31M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2020
Leonardo is neither a scientist nor an engineer in the modern meaning of these terms. He does not waste his time analyzing the consequences of his theories or conceiving the realization of his inventions. In his swarming of ideas, he could be wonderfully right and naively wrong, and he was certainly unable to distinguish between these two extremes.
For this left-hander, the mirror writing is the way he has found so that his thinking is not slowed down by his hand. The use of numerous abbreviations, which makes these texts extremely difficult to decipher, is consistent with this hypothesis. We will never know how he desired exploiting such a unique mass of informations.
These writings were later assembled into notebooks, identified under the more technical term of codex. The Codex Leicester is the only one remaining in private hands. It was sold twice by Christie's, for $ 5.1M on December 12, 1980 and for $ 31M including premium on November 11, 1994. Between these two sales it was named the Codex Hammer. It was bought by Bill Gates at the last auction. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
The Codex Leicester is made up of 18 double sheets of parchment for a total of 72 pages 22 x 30 cm. It brings together his notes written around 1510 on the theme of the water movements. The author imagines that his ideas could be used for the design of bridges.
His observation on the presence of fossils in the mountains brings an explanation far ahead of his time : they were originally in a seabed which was raised by a geophysical phenomenon. This hypothesis is all the more remarkable since the monotheistic religions of his time do not question the creationism.
In the same notebook, he explains the luminosity of the Moon by the reflection of sunlight on its surface entirely covered with water.
1508-1511 Raphael and the Vatican Muse
2009 SOLD 29.1 M£ including premium
The author of the work we are discussing today is Raphael, the youngest of the three. For five centuries, all the art critics have praised him and noted the perfection of his paintings. His works were the subject of preparatory drawings very sharp, detailed and contrasted, at the exact size he wanted for the final motif.
Knowing the above, we understand better why some drawings are composite, for example hand and head . But the black chalk drawing 30.5 x 22.2 cm that Christie's will sell in London on December 8 is more important.
This pretty young woman head with flying hair in full frame is a preparation for a character of a Muse. It still have the perforations made by the artist to project the outline through the paper on the frescoes of the Vatican (1508 to 1511). It is estimated 12 million pounds.
This sale passionates the press. Here are the articles shared by Bloomberg, by Guardian and by Telegraph.
POST SALE COMMENT
We were here in the presence of a real historical work, because of the role played by this drawing in the process of decoration of the Vatican.
The result is also historical from the point of view of auction.
Sold £ 29.1 million including premium, it is the world record for a work on paper, and the second highest price for a work of ancient art, according to the information provided by Christie's.
#Raphael was #BornOnThisDay in 1483. In 2009, we offered an auxiliary sketch by #Raphael. The drawing, one of the best of Raphael’s surviving sketches set a #WorldAuctionRecord for a work on paper at £29,161,250 https://t.co/GDloR0vDil pic.twitter.com/pfYMt2hbGe— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) April 6, 2019
1518 Portrait of Lorenzo II de' Medici by Raphael
2007 SOLD for £ 18.5M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2020
Lorenzo must therefore be married. The pope promotes a French alliance and the choice falls on Madeleine de la Tour d'Auvergne, a cousin of King François I, in 1517. This marriage was political and the future newlyweds had obviously never met. Portraits will be exchanged during the preparation of this union.
The portrait of Lorenzo was entrusted at the beginning of 1518 to Raphael, a native of Urbino. The matter is urgent. The artist chooses the oil on canvas, which allows a faster execution than the wooden panel. The prince is seen in three quarter length, slightly turned to his right, the gaze directed towards the spectator. He is sumptuously dressed in brocade, velvet and fur. He holds in his hand a gold box supposedly decorated with a miniature portrait of his future wife.
This commission is of great political importance and there is no doubt that this painting is autograph by Raphael. The portrait of Lorenzo reached Paris in March in a convoy of gifts carried by 36 horses. The reciprocal portrait of Madeleine had arrived in Florence in the previous month. The marriage is celebrated on May 2 at the Château d'Amboise.
The original autograph painting, 97 x 78 cm, authenticated by modifications revealed by infrared photography, was sold for £ 18.5M including premium by Christie's on July 5, 2007, lot 91. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
The glory of this prince was overrated. He had not won the war against the Della Rovere. He died in 1519 of syphilis, possibly contracted during his wedding trip. Madeleine had died a few days before him, two weeks after the birth of their only daughter who will become the French queen Catherine de Médicis.
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.
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.
1726-1732 The Badminton cabinet
2004 SOLD 19 M£ including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2020
In 1726 the 3rd Duke of Beaufort, aged 19, makes his tour of Italy. He is extremely rich and desires to build an art collection. His stay in Florence was very short. It seems likely that a pre-existing project for a monumental piece of furniture was offered to him. He orders this piece, of which he has followed the make by his agents.
The piece of furniture is delivered to him in 1732. It will be known as the Badminton cabinet from the residence where the 3rd Duke installed it and where it stayed until 1990.
It was sold twice by Christie's : on July 5, 1990 for £ 8.6M including premium and on December 9, 2004 for £ 19M including premium, lot 260 (not illustrated online). It was acquired at this latter sale by Prince Hans Adam II von und zu Liechtenstein to become the central piece in the collection of pietra dura works in his private museum.
The Badminton cabinet is a piece of furniture with four superimposed ebony segments over eight pilasters, for a total height of 386 cm including the Beaufort coat of arms in finial. It is 232 cm wide and 94 cm deep.
The assembly of this piece is a tour de force of joinery. It is sumptuously decorated on front and lateral sides in pietra dura and semi-precious stones with floral themes including birds. The upper segment consists of a clock whose dial is later. The allegories of the four seasons in gilt bronze surround the clock.
1733 The Grand Canal of Venice by Canaletto
2005 SOLD 18.6 M£ including premium by Sotheby's
1768 A Venitian Masterpiece by Francesco Guardi
2011 SOLD 26.7 M£ including premium
In Venice indeed, in the late 1760s, the uncontested master of the genre, Canaletto, is aging. He died in 1768.
It is certainly no coincidence that the most achieved works of Francesco Guardi date from the same period: Canaletto's position on the market was to be taken.
In this time of greater maturity, Guardi executed very few large paintings. The view from the Rialto Bridge, an oil on canvas 120 x 204 cm, for sale by Sotheby's in London on July 6, is exceptional. It is estimated £ 15M.
As ever, the architectures are much detailed. The dense and gentle animation is typical of Guardi, but the cloudy atmosphere and contrasting sunlight are worthy of Canaletto. This work was sold in 1768 : to an Englishman, of course.
It is shown in the press release shared by Artdaily.
POST SALE COMMENT
This exceptional painting was sold £ 26.7 million including premium, in the upper range of the estimates that had been ambitious yet.
1768 From Both Sides of the Rialto
2017 SOLD for £ 26M including premium
They show the commercial district of Venice, the Rialto, on the Grand Canal on both sides of its spectacular single arched covered bridge which housed shops. Through his picturesque animation and his luminosity, Guardi appears as a worthy continuator of Canaletto.
The sequence of monuments is correct but these panoramas are too wide to respect a unique perspective. The large format brings an abundance of details and an exceptional vision of the Venetian atmosphere.
Guardi worked from the collection of his autograph drawings and the modifications made to the monuments do not allow to date his paintings with accuracy. We will consider 1768 for this pair for two reasons. The death of Canaletto in April certainly generate great ambitions to Guardi suddenly becoming the best supplier of the tourists. The first owner was a young British aristocrat who had his tour in 1768, arriving in August in Venice.
The pair was separated in 2011. The view taken northward was sold by Sotheby's for £ 26.7M including premium on July 6, 2011. The view in the reverse direction is for sale on July 6, 2017 in London by Christie's, lot 25. The press release of 5 April announces that it is expected to exceed £ 25M. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
1963 Cosmos and Egg
2018 SOLD for £ 17M including premium
Meanwhile FD 22 was sold for £ 16M including premium by Sotheby's on October 15, 2015 and one of the ultimate FD examples was sold for $ 29M including premium by Christie's on November 10, 2015.
I narrated FD 24 as follows before the 2013 sale.
Lucio Fontana conceives art as an interpretation of the mysteries of the unlimited universe. Art needs a supporting material such as canvas or sculpture, that he will cut or pierce for providing an access to beyond. A contemporary of Barnett Newman, he is also a predecessor of Yves Klein.
Fontana feels that he is living in the space era. The development of the space travel matches his illusion that some infinity can now be reached. The generic title of his works, Concetto spaziale (space concept), brings together a variety of formats on which he materializes his research.
In 1963, when he opts for ovoid shaped canvases 178 x 123 cm, he knows that he reaches the best possible synthesis of his thought and he subtitles this series La Fine di Dio. Following Nietzsche, he does not really desire the death of God. He wants to be a keen interpreter.
All paintings of La Fine di Dio are monochrome but they differ from one another in a wide range of colors. The holes are large or small, and their arrangement can be either as random as the craters of the moon or in an elegant form of constellations that bring some order to the chaos. They should be displayed together for understanding the whole mystical approach of the artist.
In FD 24 the positioning of hollows is curvilinear, providing to this flat canvas the three-dimensional illusion of an egg, source and symbol of life.
1963 Cosmic Transition
2015 SOLD for £ 16M including premium
With its wide variety in a unique oval size 178 x 123 cm, the sub-series La Fine di Dio consists of 38 oil paintings made in 1963 and 1964 that mark the peak of the philosophical thought of Fontana. The 6 Onement by Barnett Newman had been another representation of the creation of the cosmos.
From one work to another, the always monochrome color leads the oval from the feeder egg to the planetary orbite. The more or less large and more or less spaced holes display the constitution or the explosion of the universe. The end of God is not a death but an incapacity to reach him in the new understanding of the complexity of the egg and of the vastness of the cosmos, opening the post-theological era.
Some examples of Concetto Spaziale - Fine di Dio were painted in a deep black that is a direct evocation of the night sky. The opus 63FD22 is pierced with large evenly spaced holes. Some large holes, but not all, are surrounded by a cohort of smaller holes forming the beginning of a spiral, like the birth of a subsystem ready for takeoff.
63FD22 estimated £ 15M for sale by Sotheby's in London on October 15, lot 17.
63FD23 is the subsequent state of the cosmos, similar in design except that among the big holes only those in the center have survived, while the smaller holes now evenly punctuate the rest of the surface. They are thus revealed as the constellations that the previous phase had shown in their nascent state, according to the imagination of the artist.
63FD23 was sold for £ 9M including premium by Christie's on October 19, 2008.
1964 The New Total Art of Lucio Fontana
2015 SOLD for $ 29M including premium
Modern art must be total, encompassing altogether painting and sculpture. La Fine di Dio, which is a subset started in 1963 within the Concetto Spaziale series, offers a new format to the mystic message of the artist throughout its diversity.
The canvas is cut in an oval shape whose standardized dimension of 178 x 123 cm is comparable to humans in its height. The monochrome surface is pierced with holes of various diameters whose disposition guides the imagination to a spiral galaxy or to the craters on a dry planet.
The color helps to support the extent of knowledge from egg to cosmos. The egg is a symbol of birth and a perfect form that already influenced Brancusi. The bright yellow examples of the Fine di Dio are among the latest in the series, in 1964. The artist explores and maintains the splashes of his still wet paint when he introduces his piercing tool to expand the craters.
This dual symbol of life, through shape and color, is a sumptuous achievement. A painting with a nearly homogeneous distribution of the holes was sold for £ 1,38M including premium by Sotheby's on June 25, 2003, long before the art market discovered the importance of Fontana.
The ultimate synthesis is achieved in the artwork for sale as lot 15B by Christie's on November 10 in New York, combining spiral or swirling patterns with a golden look of the surface. An indiscretion from Bloomberg reveals an estimate in the region of $ 30M.