It’s hard to imagine someone ponying up $15-20m for a dinner conversation piece that wouldn’t be centered completely on how great it is, as opposed to who it’s by, but such is the case with the feature lot from Sotheby’s sale today- Titian’s “Sacra Conversazione” (image #17).
Opinion is still up in the air as to whether the work was completed entirely by the master himself or partially done by one of his assistants. Nevertheless, the handling of the Madonna and Child is Titian in vintage form. It’s hard to tell from this jpeg, but there’s that flair in brushstroke that’s so undeniably modern..it instantly brought us back to other instances of such confident touch by him and his great contemporary Giorgione seen over the past year or so.
Out of all the works here, however, our money would be on three relative bargains: Lorenzo Lotto’s “Portrait of a Jeweler,” (image #1) Joachim Wtewael’s “Adam and Eve,” (image #5) and two Passion of the Christ scenes from the studio of Sandro Botticelli. (images #3-4)
Lotto’s work presents a similar instance of undervalue by a master of the Venetian Renaissance on the market recently. Lotto, of course, followed in the wake of the great Giovanni, so this isn’t as egregious, but like the previous picture at Christie’s, this a wonderful example of the type of portraiture that was being pioneered at the time; psychological realism in a beautifully minimal setting that is at bargain bin status based on its sketchy condition.
At the preview last weekend, David Pollack, Sotheby’s up and coming OMP specialist, pointed out the flecky details of paint removal within the subject’s hands and garb that are being considered a hindrance to market interest. Isn’t this kind of a minor reservation, hardly noticeable for something from 500 years ago that still resonates today?
Other politics of connoisseurship come via the two Botticelli lots, which whether or not bear any of his hand still seem to have ridiculously low estimates. Attribution wise, they are at least in the same ballpark as the Titian, no?
Both were previously linked to a follower of Botticelli, coming from an artist within his bottega that continued after his death in 1510. Yet as David pointed out, there is now compelling evidence of the works being from the original studio alone (infrared reflectography revealed many stages of Boticelli-esque draughtsmanship being reworked on both canvases) and based on the precision and balance of both compositions, you’d have to think the master took some part in their completion.
Joachim Wtewael’s “Adam and Eve” is less likely to slip under the radar, as a superbly painted copper panel that had long been misattributed; now represented as an exotic riff off of Durer’s iconic print of the same subject done in 1504.
A final and absolutely delectable discovery from the paintings end was by the Dutch seascaper William van De Velde- (image #7) a rare “penschilderij” exclusive to his oeuvre, in which an elegant array of pen and ink was put down upon a white ground and then fossilized underneath several layers of clear glaze. This work is surely art historically important, but we were more taken by its confectionary quality. How beautifully contemporary and downtown loft-ish does this look? We instantly imagined this next to that “Seven Acts of Mercy” canvas by Julie Mehretu that we saw at Sotheby’s Contemporary sale back in November.
Most of the trumpeting coming from the OM drawings up for sale had been centered around the three Rembrandts, including “The Street Musician” (image #16). Conversely, it’s more striking to see how consistently great Gericaults (images #11-13) come to the market for comparatively modest sums. How could any serious appreciator of French Romanticism do without a study of the “Raft of the Medusa” ? (image #11)
And if we’re garnering sheerly based on personalities, the discerning collector out there might want to pay attention to works by Angelika Kauffman (image #15) one of the few great female painters of the pre-modern age , and Giovanni Baglione (image #9)-Caravaggio’s Salieri-esque rival, whose entertaining relationship we’ve covered previously.