Botticelli’s masterpiece up for auction

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Botticelli’s masterpiece up for auction

Editorial team

October 14, 2021 – 10:54 AM

One of the last Botticelli masterpieces still in private hands will take center stage Sotheby’s Masters Week series of sales in New York in January 2022 with an estimate greater than $ 40 million.

Painted in the late 15th / early 16th century, The Man of Sorrows is a masterful work of the artist’s late when Botticelli was influenced by Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola and adopted a style characterized by Christian symbolism and visionary spirituality. The portrait of the Risen Christ reveals an important coda from Botticelli’s well-known earlier career, while encapsulating the artist’s singular style with a modern, human portrayal of Christ.

The man of sorrow comes up for auction following Sotheby’s record sale by Botticelli Young man holding a cockade in January 2021, which carried out $ 92.2 million, making it one of the most valuable portraits of all eras ever sold, one of the most valuable Old Masters paintings ever to be auctioned, and the most valuable work ever sold in an auction of old masters.

Despite the flagship sale at the start of the year, Botticelli’s works remain extremely rare at auction. His late works in particular rarely appear on the market, with only three other works from this period (after 1492) known to be in private hands.

“To auction a work of Botticelli of this quality is a major event in the world of old masters, but to do so a year after the historic Botticelli sale Young man holding a cockade is a phenomenon unique in a generation, ”commented George Wachter, President of Sotheby’s and Global Co-Head of Old Master Paintings. “This extraordinary painting is a prime example of what makes Botticelli such a captivating artist: a bold visual style paired with a uniquely human approach to portraiture. Taking what is a rather difficult and dark subject of Christ after his persecution, Botticelli creates a deeply complex and moving portrait that is truly timeless.

The man of sorrows was unveiled at a public exhibition in Hong Kong from October 7-11, where interest in the artist reached an all-time high at Sotheby’s and in the art scene in general. Botticelli’s record Young man holding a cockade was sub-auctioned by an Asian collector and last year an exhibition of the artist’s work at the Hong Kong Museum of Art was widely acclaimed (Botticelli and his time – Masterpieces of the Uffizi, open from October 23 to February 2021). Following the exhibition in Hong Kong, The man of sorrows will embark on a world tour in Los Angeles, London and Dubai before returning to New York for a presale exhibition in January.

Botticelli’s “Man of Sorrows”

About The Man of Sorrows by Sandro Botticelli

A decisive example of his end of career, The man of sorrows is a representation of changes in style and subject matter by Botticelli from the late 15th to the early 16th centuries. Unlike his poetic mythological scenes such as the Birth of Venus and Primavera of the previous decade, Botticelli’s production from the 1490s is more sober, austere and spiritual in nature, as evidenced by this book and its Mystical Nativity from 1500 at the National Gallery in London. This stylistic change is probably dictated by the changing political and religious climate in Florence.

In 1494, Florence was invaded by foreign armies, the Medici family was expelled and fears of an apocalypse at the turn of the half-millennium were fueled by the preaching of Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498). Appointed prior of San Marco, the privileged convent of the Medici, Savonarola grew in power and popularity. A charismatic preacher, he railed against the sin and iniquity of the people, becoming a religious dictator. He declared Florence the new Jerusalem, demanded that the citizens be purged of sin and instigated the Bonfire of the Vanities, on which were burned luxuries, clothing and paintings considered idolatrous. According to Giorgio Vasari, Botticelli himself felt so chastened by Savonarola’s sermons that he threw a number of his own paintings, smelling them unclean, in flames.

Finally, the Signoria, the ruling council of Florence, arrested Savonarola, tried him, made him confess that he was a false prophet and, on May 28, 1498, had him hanged and burned as a heretic in the Piazza della Signoria. Vasari’s claim that Botticelli never painted again after Savonarola’s death is false, but without a doubt Botticelli fell under the influence of the brother and his teachings had a direct effect on his art. Of course, the central message conveyed by the Man of Sorrows is Christ’s victory over death and his resurrection, while its austere composition underlines Savonarola’s message of a return to the fundamental principles of the Christian religion.

The most distinctive features of the painting are the strictly frontal presentation of Christ and the halo of angels holding painted instruments of the Passion. Fr greyness, a painting technique whereby an image is executed entirely in shades of gray and usually severely modeled to create the illusion of sculpture. Covering their eyes in a variety of gestures expressing their pain in the face of Christ’s suffering, angels revolve around Christ’s head against a solemn black background. The close-up view shows the head and torso of Christ after his deposition from the cross; his injured hands are crossed over his chest; and the spectator is invited to contemplate his sacrifice. At the same time, the frankness of the image, above all the piercing quality of Christ’s gaze, evokes secular imagery and gives it the singularity of a portrait. Botticelli makes the dual nature of humanity and of the divinity of Christ by bringing a remarkable psychological depth to the image. Christ is depicted half-length, displaying three wounds: those he suffered on his hands when he was nailed to the cross and the wound on the right side inflicted with a spear by one of the soldiers after his death. The angels carrying the Arma Christi, or instruments of the Passion, surround his head. Symbolizing the suffering and death of Christ, the objects painted by Botticelli in naturalistic colors and meticulous details are, on the left: the ladder that appears in the ascent from the cross and the descent; the scourge used to flog Christ; and the spear with which he was stabbed; and on the right: the pillar to which Christ was bound and whipped; pliers used to pull out nails; and the sponge soaked in vinegar and fixed on a cane offered to Christ before his death. Crowning the design at the top is the cross, which is prominently placed above Christ’s head as a symbol of his sacrifice but also as an emblem of the Christian religion. A trio of angels linked by elegant serpentine lines of fabric in the form of a ribbon is arranged around the cross: the central figure kneels before her in reverence, holding her respectfully with a draped drape; the one on the left supports the three nails used to fasten the hands and feet of Christ to the cross; and the angel on the right lifts one end of the cloth that wraps around the three – the sudarium, or veil, used by Saint Veronica to wipe the sweat from Christ’s forehead as he carries his cross to Calvary.

The man of sorrows was first recorded in the collection of Ms. Adélaïde Kemble Sartoris (1814-1879) a famous English opera singer, who, along with her husband, were two influential figures from Victorian England and Rome. The painting descended into the family of Adelaide’s great-granddaughter, Lady Cunynghame, who auctioned it off in 1963 for £ 10,000 ($ 28,000). Since then it has remained in the same distinguished private collection, practically invisible until its recent inclusion in the large monographic exhibition dedicated to the Florentine master at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt in 2009-2010.



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