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.
1480 Fritware Pottery in Iznik
2018 SOLD for £ 5.4M including premium
The new craft is inspired by the Chinese blue and white, best known to the Ottomans through the Persian Timurid pottery center at Kashan. The fritware paste with a high content of siliceous rocks does not make it possible to obtain the hardness of a porcelain. The decorations of the early Iznik ceramics juxtapose the vegetal patterns in the Chinese taste and the arabesques of the Ottoman metalwork. This mixed style is named rumi-hatayi.
Blue is obtained by cobalt but the concentration of underglaze pigment is poorly controlled, generating a too intense color comparable to earlier phases of the Chinese blue and white. It will take about two decades for bright blue to be made in Iznik. Until about 1520 cobalt blue remains the only available color.
On October 24 in London, Sotheby's sells a charger from the Baba Nakkas period with a wide everted rim, lot 134 estimated £ 300K. It is 45 cm in diameter and 8 cm deep.
This piece has a documented provenance over more than half a century but had never been published. It joins an extremely limited population of four dishes of similar technique and dimensions, all of them preserved in museums. The rumi-hatayi Baba Nakkas ceramics is also known in other shapes : jars, candlesticks, flasks.
A rumi-hatayi bowl from the next phase circa 1510 was sold for £ 1.43M including premium by Christie's on April 10, 2014 over a lower estimate of £ 300K.
Chenghua - Imperial Chickens
2014 SOLD 280 MHK$ including premium
The best period of Chenghua porcelains is the second decade of his reign. Improvements are made to the choice of materials, enabling a higher temperature. The apex of any ceramic art is then achieved with a dense paste, a transparent and robust glaze and an extraordinary tactile effect.
The doucai color, started under Xuande, also gets some dramatic progress under Chenghua. Mixing enameled colors over the glaze allows a wide range of shades.
The figures of Chenghua ceramics are simple and naive. However, his chicken wine cups had an almost mystical reputation. The rooster is the emperor, and the hen protecting her chicks is his favorite concubine. It is an opportunity fir the historian to remind that Wan Guifei herself intervened to improve the quality of imperial porcelains.
One of these wonders is in perfect condition, on a pristine white background, without any crack or scratch. This piece 8.2 cm in diameter is decorated underglaze in cobalt blue and multicolored on its surface.
It was sold for HK $ 29M including premium on April 27, 1999 by Sotheby's, purchased at that sale by Eskenazi. It is estimated HK $ 200M, for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on April 8.
POST SALE COMMENT
The absolute pinnacle of the art of porcelain was achieved by the Chinese Imperial pieces of the second part of the reign of Chenghua. This cup was sold for HK $ 280M including premium.
I invite you to play the video shared by Sotheby's :
The Palace Bowls of the Chenghua Emperor
2013 SOLD 140 MHK$ including premium
During this reign that lasted 24 years, the porcelain workshops of Jingdezhen had an intense activity, which can be divided into three phases.
The blue and white of the beginning looks similar as Yuan and early Ming styles. The first major technical innovation is then the doucai, by which other colors could be added through a second firing.
And suddenly, about the 17th year of his reign, the unique technique of the so-called Chenghua palace bowls is launched. The porcelain is back to blue and white, but its tactile quality is extraordinary, comparable only to the Ru porcelain of the Northern Song, 380 years earlier.
Chenghua palace bowls are decorated with delicacy and simplicity, with flowers or fruits of botanical accuracy. On 7 April 2011, Sotheby's sold HK $ 90M in post sale a bowl 15 cm in diameter decorated with fruit and leaves of melon.
On October 8, Hong Kong, the palace bowl to be sold by Sotheby's, similar as the above in shape and size, is decorated inside and outside with humble musk-mallows. Also same as the melon bowl, it wears the Imperial mark. Expected beyond HK $ 80M, it will be described in a separate catalog. Here is the link to the home page of the sale.
The Ru of the Song had been interrupted by the Yuan invasion after only a few years. Similarly, the production of Chenghua bowls did not survive his reign. Easier to execute, the doucai had a great future and is one of the major steps that lead to the perfection of colors of the falangcai under the Qing.
POST SALE COMMENT
Chenghua palace bowls are among the greatest wonders in the history of art. This specimen was sold for HK$ 140M including premium.
Chenghua - Perfect Tactility of Ming Bowls
2011 SOLD 90 MHK$
The "palace bowls" were produced for a very short period not exceeding 7 years, from 1481 to 1487 in our calendar at the end of the reign of Chenghua, the seventh emperor. This utensil is by nature an object to be touched. These Chenghua bowls reach a perfection of tactility that will never be exceeded.
They are very rare, and the copy for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on April 7, estimated HK $ 80M, takes its place among the masterpieces of Chinese porcelain.
Measuring 15 cm in diameter, it is inscribed with the six-character mark of Chenghua and decorated with melon vines including leaves and fruits.
POST SALE COMMENTS
Perfection of manufacturing and scarcity were not sufficient arguments to justify the estimate. Unsold.
A later buyer let this bowl win its rightful place in the cultural hierarchy of the results.
The press release of Sotheby's indicates that it was sold HK $ 90M privately after the sale.
Traditionally, such announcement includes fees.
Chenghua - The Tableware of the Principal Concubine
2016 SOLD for HK$ 64M including premium
These pieces are innovative by the extreme care in realizing the porcelain, both fine and sturdy with a tactile quality that will never be available again. The gently curved shapes of their walls are also new, in several variants.
Cups are used for wine and bowls for food. These pieces bearing the imperial mark are mainly made for the use of the principal concubine Wan Guifei whose demands were evidently extreme. They are highly rare and not even found as failed or waste pieces, demonstrating the rigorous surveillance made on site in Jingdezhen by imperial eunuchs.
This limited production was so expensive that the emperor's advisers were able to terminate it after about ten years, during the 20th year of the reign corresponding to 1485 of our calendar, two years before the death of the emperor and his concubine.
The color technique is not new: cobalt blue in two hues for bowls and doucai for cups. The drawing is innovative with asymmetrical compositions often adorned with spirals. The chicken cups are prestigious. One of them in an admirable state of preservation was sold for HK $ 280M including premium by Sotheby's on April 8, 2014.
The bowls decorated with flowers can be exquisite such as the musk mallow bowl sold for HK $ 140M including premium by Sotheby's on 8 October 2013. Vines of melons are a rare theme symbolizing an auspicious prosperity to the offspring. The bowl from the Meiyintang collection with a nice balance of blue and white was sold in post sale for HK $ 90M at Sotheby's on April 7, 2011.
On April 6 in Hong Kong, Sotheby's sells another melon bowl, lot 25 estimated HK $ 50M. This piece is unique in the details of its pattern by the quantity and density of the fruit. Its size is 15.4 cm in diameter.
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 $11.7 million - a new record for a drawing by the artist at auction, and the 5th highest price for a drawing ever at auction pic.twitter.com/p6e3THFEU6— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) January 29, 2020
1493-1495 The Florentine Grace of Sandro Botticelli
2013 SOLD 10.5 M$ including premium
Botticelli's life is poorly documented, but his passion for his city, Florence, is the thread.
On January 30 in New York, Christie's sells a Madonna and Child with the young St John. This tempera on panel is estimated $ 5M. Waiting for the catalog, here is the link to the article shared by Artdaily when this painting was offered for sale at Maastricht in 2010. Of small size, 48 x 38 cm, it was designed for private devotion.
Botticelli's art is not narrative. The scene is by evidence located in Florence, and is not a Biblical story. The presence of John is only meaning that he is the patron saint of Florence. The three characters are graceful and communicate together with ardor. The faces are beautiful.
This work is dated around 1493-1495, the period of transition between the principate of Lorenzo de' Medici and the theocracy of Savonarola. The legend that he had himself brought his secular works in the Bonfire of the Vanities is not confirmed by Vasari, but it seems certain that his career as an artist became difficult afterwards.
POST SALE COMMENT
This small painting typical of the emotional art of Botticelli was sold $ 10.5 million including premium.
The image is shared by Wikimedia.
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.
1495-1505 Adoration of the Magi by Mantegna
1985 SOLD for £ 8M (worth $ 10.5M at that time) including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2021
On April 18, 1985, Christie's sold for £ 8M worth at the time $ 10.5M, including premium, a similarly composed Adoration of the Magi. This distemper on linen 49 x 66 cm is a technique used by the artist at the end of his career and can be dated 1495-1505.
The three kings bring gifts to the Child, whom his mother lifts in her arms so that he can see better. Joseph assists. The three saints each have a halo made of a thin golden circle in the Byzantine style. The kings are lavishly dressed, possibly under Venetian influence. The gifts are cosmopolitan : a Chinese porcelain cup filled with gold, a Turkish censer, a covered agate cup.
The image is shared by Wikimedia.