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Botticelli’s ‘Man of Sorrows’ masterpiece could fetch over $ 40 million at Sotheby’s auction

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This article was originally published by The Art Newspaper, an editorial partner of CNN Style.

Rare “autograph” quality paintings by early Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli have become the equivalent of London buses for the art trade. You wait and wait and wait, then four of them come in one after the other.

First, in July 2019, there was the speculative “Portrait of a young man”, cataloged “in the style of Botticelli”, which sold 1000 times its estimate, at 7.5 million Swiss francs ( with costs, approximately $ 8 million) at an auction in Zurich. In October, it was followed by the fully accepted portrait of Botticelli by humanist Michele Marullo Tarcaniota, donated to the Frieze Masters art fair for $ 30 million. Then, in January, Sotheby’s sold Botticelli’s “Young Man Holding a Cockade” for $ 92.2 million.

And now, Sotheby’s has announced that it will be selling “The Man of Sorrows”, a half-length panel painting of the Risen Christ, believed to date from around 1500, which the auction house ambitiously claims to be “the masterpiece. decisive work at the end of Botticelli’s career. “

Scheduled to be auctioned off in New York in January 2022, the Botticelli will be unveiled in Hong Kong ahead of a world tour with visits to Los Angeles, London and Dubai. The painting is sure to sell, with a financial guarantee before the auction, and is estimated at over $ 40 million.

“The Man of Sorrows”, like “Young Man Holding a Cockade”, is an attributional upgrade. The painting, owned by an American collector, last appeared at auction in 1963, when it sold for a relatively modest price of £ 10,000 ($ 13,600 today). It was among the “studio and school photos” in Ronald Lightbown’s seminal 1978 catalog of Botticelli’s works, meaning that it would have been created by the painter’s students or followers.

A close-up view of “The Man of Sorrows” by Sandro Botticelli. Credit: Courtesy of Sotheby’s

But now, after its inclusion in the 2009-2010 exhibition “Botticelli: Likeness, Myth, Devotion” at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, and a subsequent in-person visit, “The Man of Sorrows” has been praised by Laurence Kanter, chief curator of European art at Yale University Art Gallery, as an autograph-quality masterpiece from the artist’s late period, according to a Sotheby’s catalog.

The improved attribution for “The Man of Sorrows” was also approved by Keith Christiansen, chairman of the department of European paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, according to Sotheby’s. However, Scott Nethersole, a Botticelli scholar and Italian Renaissance art reader at the Courtauld Institute in London, remains less convinced of the painting’s fully autograph status.

“Cross image”

Botticelli’s late religious paintings from the 1490s are steeped in another world which reflects the fervent preaching of the “fire of vanities” of Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola, who briefly became the de facto ruler of Florence, before being executed publicly in 1498. Vasari, in his “Lives of the artists” of 1550, writes that Botticelli became a follower of the sect of Savonarola, which led him to “give up painting”. Art historians now know this is not the case. “The Man of Sorrows”, impassively flaunting his wounds in the form of a halo of weeping angels holding instruments of passion floating around his head, bears many stylistic similarities to Botticelli’s “Mystical Nativity” at the National Gallery of the United Kingdom, signed and dated 1500.

“This is a crossed image. It might appeal to a contemporary collector,” Christopher Apostle, head of Old Masters paintings at Sotheby’s in New York, said in a telephone interview. “I see a strong, stark image in your face that seems to be where we get people to enter the market, especially a big name like Botticelli, whom they all know and love. “

The appearance of the Botticelli brand is not in question. But how can we be sure that this image with a price tag of over $ 40 million is an entirely “autograph” work by a Florentine Renaissance artist who ran a busy workshop that made large quantities of religious paintings?

Related: Why Is Art So Expensive?

According to Sotheby’s, Lightbown’s 1978 catalog of Botticelli’s works, written long before tens of millions of dollars could snag a single award, took a “restrictive” view of the artist’s output and did not not considered the works that were collaborations between the master and his assistants.

Indeed, “Botticelli: Artist and Designer,” currently in progress at the Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris, explores how the artist’s studio was a “laboratory of ideas,” according to the museum’s website, making paintings which were pretty much all, at various degrees, collaborative – even in the case of masterpieces such as “La Primavera”.

The famous portrait of Botticelli, “La Bella Simonetta”, from the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, is one of the flagship exhibitions of this Parisian fair. Cataloged by Lightbown as a piece from the painter’s studio, it is today proudly displayed by the German Museum as a high point of autograph quality from its collection.

“It ticks all the boxes of an iconic work,” Ana Debenedetti, curator of “Botticelli: Artist and Designer”, said of “La Bella Simonetta” last month. As Debenedetti puts it, a detailed examination of this portrait of Frankfurt definitely shows that “Botticelli is here”. But his exhibition also shows that there are many other paintings drawn by Botticelli in which the master’s hand is more distant. “Applying the paint layer is another matter,” she added.
Read more stories from The arts journal here.


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