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