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Big Ticket Renaissance and other Old Masters at Christie’s, January 2013 – UPDATED WITH SALE RESULTS

January 16, 2013
Agnolo Bronzino, Portrait of a Young Man with a Book.Estimate: $12-18 million

Lot 152. Agnolo Bronzino (Florence 1503-1572)
Portrait of a young man with a book
oil on panel
37 x 30¾ in. (94 x 78 cm.)
Estimate: $12-18 million. “Bidding” on this lot stopped at $11.5 million and it failed to sell.

UPDATE: The Bronzino bombed at the sale – the highest estimated lot of the sale never made it past the chandelier bidding, which stopped at $11.5 million. The leaden delivery of this video narrative didn’t lend any appeal.

It’s time to channel your inner Robber Baron because the catalogues are out for the January Old Master paintings sales in New York, with Sotheby’s offering a heretofore unknown Memling and the Christie’s Old Masters sales January 29-31, 2013 offering works by big name Renaissance painters including Bronzino, Fra Bartolomeo and Botticelli.

Recently rediscovered, the Portrait of a Young Man with a Book is among Bronzino’s earliest known portraits, datable to the time he was most closely associated with his teacher, Jacopo Pontormo, whose stylistic influence is clearly visible here. While the sitter’s identity cannot be confirmed, his social status and profession are alluded to. Elegantly attired and shown writing in a manuscript with a quill pen, he is clearly a cultivated man of letters. The seeming spontaneity of the sitter’s pose and direct gaze toward the viewer suggest that he may have been a close friend of the artist.

Fra Bartolommeo, The Madonna and Child.Estimate: $10-15 million

Lot 128.  Baccio della Porta, called Fra Bartolommeo (Florence 1472-1517)
The Madonna and Child
oil on panel, a tondo in its original frame
25½ in. (64.7 cm.) diameter 
Estimate: $10-15 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $11.5 million ($12,962,500 with buyer’s premium).

Likely executed in the mid-1490s, early in Fra Bartolommeo’s career, this tondo-shaped oil on panel depicts a tender moment as the Christ child eagerly grasps his mother’s veil, pulling himself up to receive a kiss. While this motif had originated in a late 13th-century icon known as the Glykophilusa Madonna, artists continued to portray the affectionate, maternal relationship throughout the centuries. Unlike his contemporaries, however, Fra Bartolommeo has painted the figures in profile, echoing Byzantine icons, thus elevating them to a beatified, inaccessible realm. Still set in its original frame, the circular form of the tondo is also of note, not only as an allusion to the halo, but also for the long-held associations with the shape. Greeks revered the circle as the most perfect geometrical form, Romans used circular portraits to denote the subject’s apotheosis, and Renaissance contemporaries of Fra Bartolommeo associated the circular format with the cycle of birth, death, and resurrection at the center of the Christian faith.

Lot 148. Alessandro Filipepi, called Sandro Botticelli (Florence 1444/45-1510)
‘The Rockefeller Madonna': Madonna and Child with Young Saint John the Baptist
tempera, oil and gold on panel
18¼ x 14½ in. (46.3 x 36.8 cm.)
Estimate: $5-7 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $9.25 million ($10,442,500 with buyer’s premium).

I last saw this Botticelli at Florence’s Palazzo Strozzi during the 2004 exhibition Botticelli and Filippino, Passion and Grace in Fifteenth-Century Florentine Painting. It’s a handsome painting, though there’s not 100% consensus about the authorship and the condition may cause concern for some – from the Christie’s online condition report:

The panel has been cradled at some unknown time in the past. It is very stable and has no indications of any present cleavage or flaking.

The majority of the painting is in very good condition. However, there are some paint losses running vertically through the center of the figure of the Virgin and some in the body of Saint John the Baptist. The restoration of these losses are not of high quality and weaken the superb quality of the original paint. Botticelli’s paint surface on panel is clear and preceise with a clarity and brilliance of color, which are qualities the present retouchings do not adequately possess.
The landscape on the left of the panel has been slightly overcleaned in a few places in the distant past, but even with this, remains a superb passage of high quality.

Follower of Hieronymus Bosch, The Temptation of Saint Anthony.Estimate: $400,000-600,000

Lot 113. Follower of Hieronymus Bosch
The Temptation of Saint Anthony
oil on panel
31 1/8 x 44½ in. (79.2 x 113 cm.) .
Estimate: $400,000-600,000. This lot sold for a hammer price of $750,000 ($902,500 with buyer’s premium).

Among the earliest of the Christian monks, Saint Anthony the Great was the first to abandon society for a solitary existence in the wilderness. Depicted here is the famous scene in which Saint Anthony is tempted by the Devil, who unsuccessfully appears in myriad forms to coax Anthony from the path of Christian righteousness. A favorite subject of the great Netherlandish artist Hieronymous Bosch, the saint’s story was ideally suited to his personal belief that a blissful eternity in Heaven would await those who led an honorable life. In order to accentuate the consequences of a sinful life, he created a richly inventive repertoire of fantastical motifs, which are included in the present example. Despite the horrors that surround him, however, Saint Anthony remains stoic as he walks through the landscape.

Sandro BotticelliThe Madonna and Child with a pomegranate tempera and oil on panel 29 x 17 in. (73.7 x 43.2 cm.) Estimate: $3-5 million

Lot 118. Sandro Botticelli
The Madonna and Child with a pomegranate
inscribed ‘VERGINE MADRE FIGLIA DEL TUO FIGLIO VMILE [ED] ALTA PIV CHE CRIAT..[URA]‘ (lower center, on the base of the throne)
tempera and oil on panel
29 x 17 in. (73.7 x 43.2 cm.)
Estimate: $3-5 million. “Bidding” on this lot stopped at $2.7 million and it failed to sell.

There are a lot of “gold ground” paintings including orphaned fragments and predella panels, such as this circular format Paolo Veneziano and two predella panels by Taddeo di Bartolo.

 Lot 101. Paolo VenezianoThe Veil of Saint Veronica tempera and gold on panel 8 ½ in (21.7 cm.), circular Estimate: $300,000-500,000

Paolo Veneziano
The Veil of Saint Veronica
tempera and gold on panel
8½ in. (21.7 cm.), circular, in the original engaged frame
Estimate: $300,000-500,000. This lot sold for a hammer price of $240,000 ($290,500 with buyer’s premium).

Lot 103. Taddeo di Bartolo (Siena ?1362/3-1422) Saints Cosmas and Damian awaiting decapitation  tempera on panel  11½ x 15 in. (29.2 x 38.1 cm.)  Estimate: $$600,000 - $800,000

Lot 103. Taddeo di Bartolo (Siena ?1362/3-1422)
Saints Cosmas and Damian awaiting decapitation
tempera on panel
11½ x 15 in. (29.2 x 38.1 cm.)
Estimate: $$600,000 – $800,000. This lot sold for a hammer price of $800,000 ($962,500 with buyer’s premium).

According to the catalogue notes, this “handsome unpublished panel of unusual iconography” is a “recently rediscovered panel” (though it’s unclear how recent “recent” is and whether this has been circulating on the art market).  It is a handsome, delicate and refined panel – some of the drapery treatment, including Damian’s robe, and the soldiers’ black footwear is vey appealing – though the punch work of Damian’s halo is awkward and chunky in the Taddeo fashion. The author of the catalogue entry claims the panel was originally located on the right hand side of Taddeo’s Annunciation altarpiece (below) in San Michele al Poggio San Donato (later Abbadia San Donato), Siena, which was cut apart following the church’s suppression in the late 18th century. (I would happily own this painting).

Taddeo bi Bartolo, Annunciation altarpiece, San Michele al Poggio San Donato (later Abbadia San Donato), Siena, signed and dated 1409.

Taddeo di Bartolo, Annunciation altarpiece, San Michele al Poggio San Donato (later Abbadia San Donato), Siena, signed and dated 1409.

Lot 120. Taddeo di Bartolo (Siena ?1362/3-1422) The Resurrection  tempera on gold ground panel  13½ x 13 3/8 in. (34.1 x 33.7 cm.)  Estimate: $200,000-300,000.

Lot 120. Taddeo di Bartolo (Siena ?1362/3-1422)
The Resurrection
tempera on gold ground panel
13½ x 13 3/8 in. (34.1 x 33.7 cm.)
Estimate: $200,000-300,000. This lost sold for a hammer price of $240,000 ($290,500 with buyer’s premium).

This was lot 18 at the December 6, 2011 evening sale of Old Masters at Christie’s in London with an estimate of £300,000 – 500,000, but did not sell.  The present estimate is significantly reduced.

According to the catalogue notes, this has not been identified with a specific altarpiece, though it was probably a predella panel.

The first owner of the present work, Cardinal Joseph Fesch, was the half-brother of Napoleon’s mother, Letizia Bonaparte. He was a voracious collector, his posthumous inventory recording some 16,000 items. Fesch accumulated an especially impressive group of early Italian paintings, most of which he purchased after settling in Rome in 1815. Part of his collection now comprises the Musée Fesch, Ajaccio.

This panel was first identified as a work by Taddeo di Bartolo in 1928, when sold from the Cavaliere Ludovico Spiridon Collection in Rome. It was purchased by the Dutch dealer Jacques Goudstikker, for whom Van Marle confirmed the attribution, describing the picture as “a production of the early years of his activity, that is to say his best period” (private communication, 14 October 1928). The attribution to Taddeo di Bartolo has been accepted by all subsequent writers.

UPDATE: A big surprise at the this morning’s sale was lot 129, a portrait by Scipione Pulzone that sailed well past its $2.5 million high estimate to make a hammer price of $6.7 million.

Lot 129. Scipione Pulzone, called Il Gaetano (Gaeta 1544-1598) Portrait of Jacopo Boncompagni, three-quarter length, in armor  signed, dated and inscribed 'Scipio. Caietano faciebat. 1574/Illm o. et. Ecc.sm o S.or Jaco.' (lower center, on the paper) oil on canvas  48 x 39 1/8 in. (121.9 x 99.3 cm.)  Estimate: $1.5-2.5 million.

Lot 129. Scipione Pulzone, called Il Gaetano (Gaeta 1544-1598)
Portrait of Jacopo Boncompagni, three-quarter length, in armor
signed, dated and inscribed ‘Scipio. Caietano faciebat. 1574/Illm o. et. Ecc.sm o S.or Jaco.’ (lower center, on the paper)
oil on canvas
48 x 39 1/8 in. (121.9 x 99.3 cm.)
Estimate: $1.5-2.5 million. This lot made a hammer price of $6.7 million ($7,586,500 with buyer’s premium).

Along with the Renaissance catalogue, there is a catalogue for other paintings in the morning sale. According to Christies’s:

This sale brings together works from some of the most well-known artists spanning four centuries of European painting. Names such as Carracci, Chardin, Boucher, Watteau, Panini, Hals, van Dyck, Ruysdael, Zurbaran will resonate with art enthusiasts of all ages and interests. The offerings here will delight the serious collector as well as the emerging connoisseur with quality, new discoveries and a range of subject matter.

Perhaps … not so enthusiastic about the Watteau, the Zurburan and a few others.

Lot 11. Carlo Marrati

Lot 11. Carlo Maratti (Camerano 1625-1713 Rome)
The Flight into Egypt
oil on copper: 23¾ x 19 1/8 in. (60.3 x 48.6 cm.)
Estimate: $800,000 – $1,200,000. “Bidding” on this lot stopped at $650,000 and it failed to sell.

According to the lot notes: “The present painting is an autograph reduction of a large altarpiece that was commissioned from Maratti in 1661 by Pope Alexander VII Chigi for the Cappella del Voto in the right transept of the Duomo in Siena.” The entry also indicates:

“Unlike earlier representations of the subject, in which the Holy Family is shown resting in an edenic landscape or with Mary holding the Christ child while seated on a donkey, here Mary hands the Christ child to Joseph across a waterfall as she looks back in trepidation, a striking dramatic invention much admired by Maratti’s contemporaries.”

Lot 28. Salomon van Ruysdael

Lot 28. Salomon van Ruysdael (Naarden? 1600/03-1670 Haarlem)
Skaters on the frozen river Lek, the town of Vianen beyond
signed with monogram ‘S.VR’ and dated ‘1653’ (on the back of the central carriage)
oil on canvas: 29¾ x 43 3/8 in. (75.2 x 110 cm.)
Estimate:$800,000 – $1,200,000. This lot was withdrawn.

From the catalogue entry:

The city depicted here is Vianen in the province of Utrecht. The skyline is distinguished by Batestein castle, a residence of the Brederode family on the river Lek. During the Eighty Years War, the castle served as a meeting place for leaders of the Dutch revolt, while later it was known for its ornamental gardens built by Johan Wolfert Brederode in 1630. Vianen was a popular site for artists. Ruysdael painted the city in milder weather in a River Landscape now in the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester (inv. L.F74.1955.0.0).

Lot 31. Annibale Carracci

Lot 31. Annibale Carracci (Bologna 1560-1609 Rome)
The Annunciation
oil on canvas: 53 x 38¾ in. (134.6 x 98.4 cm.)
Estimate: $1.5-2.5 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $3.0 million ($3,442,500 with buyer’s premium).

The catalogue entry on this is intriguing and begins with a sense of discovery: “Previously known only from a decades-old black and white photograph, the Annunciation has been widely published since 1984, but unseen until the present time.”

But after eight  paragraphs discussing the subject matter, iconographical representation, what makes the painting “Strikingly original” and Annibale’s career, we run into a significant speed bump in paragraph nine: “There has been less unanimity about the attribution of the painting, which few authorities have yet to have seen in person“(emphasis added). This is followed by citations of various sources including this seemingly reassuring communication from Alessandro Brogi:

[T]he picture must be attributed to Annibale “without a shadow of doubt” (1994), a sentiment he has reconfirmed: “in my opinion there is, and I continue to see, an exuberance of form, of sentiment, of brushwork and of color, though restrained [trattenuta], that I can only explain as Annibale” (written communication).

Endorsements from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Keith Christiansen, along with Xavier Salomon and Andrea Bayer are included.

Nevertheless, a David with the Head of Goliath labeled as by Guido Reni failed to sell last summer because of doubts about its authorship.

Lot 36. Francois Desportes

Lot 36. François Desportes (Champigneule, Marne 1661-1743 Paris)
Le Déjeuner maigre: oysters, bread, wine, peaches, pears, melon, radishes, salt and figs on a table
signed and dated ‘Desportes 1739′ (lower left)
oil on canvas: 29 x 36 in. (73.7 x 91.4 cm.)
Estimate: $200,000-300,000. This lot sold for a hammer price of $240,000 ($290,500 with buyer’s premium).

Lot 37. Antoine Watteau

Lot 37. Antoine Watteau (Valenciennes 1684-1721 Nogent-sur-Marne)
La Déclaration
inscribed in ink ‘A. Watteau’ (on the reverse of the copper)
oil on copper: 8½ x 6¾ in. (21.9 x 16.4 cm.)
Estimate: $500,000-700,000. This lot sold for a hammer price of $500,000 ($602,500 with buyer’s premium).

From the lot notes:

This beautiful little copper appeared in several important collections in the 18th and 19th centuries, but has been unknown to recent scholars and missing from the modern scholarly literature on the artist. Because of its copper support, small size and striking subject matter, it is easily identified in the Collet Collection sale of 1787, in the 1822 sale of the paintings of Robert de Saint-Victor, and in the 1856 auction of the celebrated English collector Samuel Rogers, one of five paintings by Watteau in Roger’s possession at the time of his death.

Lot 38. Jean-Simon Chardin

Lot 38. Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (Paris 1699-1779)
The Embroiderer
oil on canvas, transferred from panel: 7½ x 6½ in. (19 x 16.5 cm.)
Estimate: $3-5 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $3.5 million ($4,002,500 with buyer’s premium).

The catalogue entry begins: “Chardin’s Embroiderer (‘L’ouvrière en tapisserie’) and its pendant, The Young Draftsman (‘Un jeune écolier qui dessine’) seem to be among the artist’s first genre scenes, datable to around 1733-1735. Only one pair of these compositions remains together, in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.”

Lot 41. Giovanni Paolo Pannini

Lot 41. Giovanni Paolo Panini (Piacenza 1691-1765 Rome)
View of the Campidoglio, Rome
signed ‘P. PANINI./ROMÆ 1750′ (lower left, on the wall)
oil on canvas: 46¾ x 49½ in. (118.8 x 125.7 cm.)
Estimate: $3-5 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $3.0 million ($3,442,500 with buyer’s premium).

According to the Art Newspaper, NY-based dealer Otto Nauman is off-loading 22 works at the sale:

There are some terrific and reasonably estimated Dutch pictures here, notably a beautiful Hermit Praying, 1663, by Rembrandt’s pupil Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (est $150,000-$200,000), Paying the Hostess, around 1650-55, by the underrated Ludolf de Jongh (est $120,000-$180,000) and a Madonna and Child with Angels, around 1603-05, by the rarely seen Flemish master Dirck de Quade van Ravesteyn, painted at the court of Rudolph II of Prague (est $80,000-$120,000)

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