Renaissance (before 1500)
Chronology : 1150-1300 14th century 15th century 1460-1479 1480-1499
1188 The Gospels of Henry the Lion
1983 SOLD for £ 8.1M including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2020
Henry was a benefactor of Brunswick Cathedral, which he had built from 1173 and where he is buried. His gospel book is a very luxurious manuscript prepared for the consecration of the altar of the Virgin Mary in 1188 in that cathedral.
This book is a codex of 266 sheets of parchment 34 x 25 cm, including 50 full-page illustrations as well as historiated initials. It shows in a logical sequence the career of the duke protected by Christ and the saints, including for example his wedding and his coronation. Phylactery explanations complement the images, making it possible to identify the highly important imperial and ducal characters of his family.
The work was prepared at the Benedictine Abbey in Helmarshausen and the scribe identified his name. The script is a modified Caroline minuscule that anticipates the Gothic. The illustrations in bright colors are composed on the principle of the rejection of blank (horror vacui) while keeping a great readability. The image shared by Wikimedia gives the example of a page.
This masterpiece of the Romanesque illumination has remained intact. It was sold on December 6, 1983 by Sotheby's for £ 8.1M including premium, an all-categories record at that time for an artwork at auction. Considered in Germany as a national treasure, it was bought at that sale by a consortium including the government, the provinces of Lower Saxony and Bavaria and public and private donors.
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.
1297 The Magna Carta
2007 SOLD for $ 21.3 M including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2020
In 1215 the English barons revolted against King John. Financial and military demands had not prevented the scathing failures. In a situation of civil war, the king is forced to accept the Magna Carta by which the barons take control of the taxes.
The Magna Carta undergoes several modifications, because the political circumstances change. De facto rejected by King John, the Council of Barons, which was the forerunner of a parliamentary regime, was canceled in 1216 when the child Henry III acceded to the throne. In 1225 Henry III simplified the Magna Carta to facilitate its legal application.
The idea of a Parliament is gaining ground. Edward I takes the habit of summoning his advisers to make decisions concerning taxes and their collection. The operating rules are defined from 1283. It only remained to give force of law to the Magna Carta, which the king assisted by the Parliament solemnly does on October 12, 1297. It is stipulated in 1300 that a copy will be available in each county to be read four times a year.
17 manuscript copies from the 13th century have survived. 15 of them are in British institutions and one in the Australian Parliament.
The 17th document is a copy from 1297. It was bought in 1984 by the US billionaire Ross Perot, who entrusted it for display at the National Archives in Washington DC. It was sold for $ 21.3M including premium by Sotheby's on December 18, 2007. Its new owner, David M. Rubenstein, returned it to the Archives for a new long-term loan. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
1366 Two Lions at the Feet of the King
2017 SOLD for £ 9.4M including premium
The divine authority claimed by the legitimate heir is not sufficient to preserve and protect his power. Upon his accession Charles V multiplies the symbols of his superiority and of his prosperity. The lion is his emblem.
To maintain the chain of legitimacy they must also rehabilitate the ineffective Jean II. In the very first year of his reign Charles V decides to build the funerary monuments of Jean and of Jean's parents in the traditional necropolis of the Capétiens at Saint-Denis. He adds the commission for his own tomb, which is a considerable innovation for the time.
The contractor of the four monuments is the best sculptor of that period, known from a royal document as Andreu Bauneveu, André Beauneveu in modern French. The king is powerful and must be honored as a priority : his gisant (recumbent) is the best of the four with a beautiful polishing of the white marble. Beauneveu worked until 1366 on that site.
The royal monuments of Saint-Denis were dismantled in 1793. The outstanding pieces were recovered by the archaeologist Alexandre Lenoir, founder at the request of the government in 1791 of the Musée des Monuments Français for collecting artworks confiscated to the clergy by the Révolution. During the Restauration in 1816 King Louis XVIII obliged Lenoir to relocate to Saint-Denis what remained from the monuments of the necropolis including the gisant of Charles V by Beauneveu.
The monument of Charles V included a group of two addorsed lions which was placed at the feet of the king. This group was only known from one sketch drawing made by an antiquarian scholar. It has just been rediscovered in the descendance of an English collector who had acquired it in 1802, certainly bought to Lenoir whose financial backing was low at that time.
This group of lions is a marble of the same quality as its gisant and certainly executed by the same artist. The fixing points of this statue match exactly the distance of the associated points on the feet of the gisant.
The Beauneveu lions, 45 x 29 x 12 cm, will be sold as lot 10 by Christie's in London on July 6. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
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.
1480s Head of a Bear by Leonardo
2021 SOLD for £ 8.9 by Christie's
On July 8, 2021, Christie's sold for £ 8.9M the drawing of the head of a bear made by Leonardo in the 1480s, lot 20. This piece is a silverpoint on 7 x 7 cm pink-beige prepared paper with top corners cut.
No bear is known to appear in Leonardo's paintings. Nevertheless this drawing was certainly used as a preparatory sketch for the pet stoat when he designed the Lady with an ermine at the end of the same decade.
#AuctionUpdate Leonardo da Vinci's 'Head of a bear' achieved £8,857,500 in The Exceptional Sale, setting a new #WorldAuctionRecord for a drawing by the artist. The drawing is an exquisite demonstration of #LeonardodaVinci's unsurpassed mastery as a draughtsman. #ClassicWeekLondon pic.twitter.com/d0Ja2Ualub— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) July 8, 2021
1486 The Triumphs of Mantua
2020 SOLD for $ 11.7M including premium
One of his most important achievements is the series of the Triumphs of Caesar. Nine tempera paintings were made in a unique format 268 x 278 cm. A tenth image is known from an engraving. The realization lasted several years. It was sufficiently advanced in 1486 to be praised by the Duke of Ferrara.
These paintings were conceived as a narrative suite, with a homogeneity in the position of the light. We do not know however in what chronology they were painted. Acquired by King Charles I, this monumental set is exhibited in a row at Hampton Court.
A preparatory drawing for the second opus has just surfaced. Measuring 26.6 x 26.6 cm, it is an exact 1:10 scale. The hero on horseback passes between two monumental statues which are an Aesculapius standing on a carriage and a head of Cybele.
This drawing has a role of demonstration before the realization of the painting. The inscriptions identifying Aesculapius at the top of the carriage and Alexandria under the round tower were not copied in the final work. The banner texts have changed. Divo Iulio Aug ... became Imp Iulio Caesari ob Galliam devict in a reference to the First Italian War. A competent condottiero, the marchese Francesco II Gonzaga was in 1495 the governor general of the armies of the League of Venice against the new 'Gallic' invader.
The infrared inspection of the drawing, carried out by Sotheby's, revealed important reworks skillfully masked in the line, confirming that the work is autograph. The tall Aesculapius thus hides a previous Apollo whose much smaller dimension could be mingled with the characters of the action. The invocation of Aesculapius in a triumph, maintained in the painting, is a fancy.
This drawing is estimated in excess of $ 12M for sale by Sotheby's in New York on January 29, lot 19. Please watch the video shared by Sotheby's in which the artwork is commented by the specialist Cristiana Romalli who was the discoverer of the hidden figures.
#AuctionUpdate: Andrea Mantegna’s only preparatory drawing for one of the canvases in the Triumphs of Caesar, realizes $11.7 million - a new record for a drawing by the artist at auction, and the 5th highest price for a drawing ever at auction pic.twitter.com/p6e3THFEU6— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) January 29, 2020
mid 1490s Virgin and Child at the Time of Savonarola
2013 SOLD 13 M$ including premium
The likely date proposed by the auction house, the mid-1490s, is the era of the iconoclastic dictatorship of Savonarola, the preacher of repentance.
The relationship between art and Christianity were already an intense concern in Florence at the end of the glorious principate of Lorenzo de' Medici. The dying Lorenzo had doubts about the merits of his work, and chose (but unsuccessfully) Savonarola as his last confessor.
Savonarola, whose memory of his bonfires horrifies the art lovers of today, was chasing the vanities. Botticelli's mythological works have sunk therein. But he did not reject art when it glorified the Christian virtues.
Baccio della Porta, born in 1472, is a young artist whose skills are already recognized. Becoming an avid follower of Savonarola, he directs his art in accordance with the theocratic vision of his guru of whom he will also execute a very famous portrait.
It was only in 1500, when Baccio became the Dominican friar Fra Bartolomeo (or Fra Bartolommeo), that he will abandon his activity as an artist for a long period, before brilliantly resuming his brushes at the time of Raphael.
The tondo for sale is a very charming example of Christian art. The naked child rises to the mother's neck for a kiss. Empathy is intense between mother and child. The tondo format, as circular as a halo, contributes to the perfection of this nicely composed image.
POST SALE COMMENT
Deserved result for this very attractive painting by Fra Bartolommeo: $ 13M including premium.
Size of the tondo : 65 cm diameter.
The image is shared by Wikimedia.
1490s Michelangelo after Masaccio
2022 SOLD for € 23M by Christie's
Previously attributed to a later minor artist or to the school of Michelangelo, a drawing 33 x 20 cm in pen, two shades of brown ink and brown wash was attributed for the first time in 2019 to the master by an expert at Christie's. Its availability on the international art market had been delayed by a French export ban which is now lifted.
The main character is a full length fleshy young nude in a shivering position that copies the man in the right in Masaccio's Carmine Baptism. Two lesser figures comfort him from behind in a softer hue. Some relief effect is added by skilled hatchings. Remorses have been made with a dark ink, confirming that this piece was a study for a painting by the young master.
This drawing was sold for € 23M by Christie's on May 18, 2022, lot 1. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.