Botticelli’s Man of Sorrows masterpiece with hidden composition expected to fetch US$40 million

In January 2021, Italian Renaissance Master Sandro Botticelli’s Young Man Holding a Roundel fetched US$92 million dollars at Sotheby’s New York. It became the second most expensive Old Master painting ever sold after Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi garnered US$450 million dollars in 2017.

This year, the international auction house returns – with Botticelli’s Man of Sorrows stars as the highlight lot. It is estimated to fetch more than US$40 million dollars.

According to Head of Sotheby's New York Old Master Paintings Department, Christopher Apostle, there are three known late-period portraits by Botticelli – making this a rare piece by the Renaissance Master.  

Lot 14 | Sandro Botticelli | Man of Sorrows, Tempera and oil on panel

Panel: 69 x 51.4 cm | Framed: 116.2 x 100 cm  

  • Adelaide Kemble, later Mrs. Edward John Sartoris (1815–1879), Rome and Warnford Park, Bishop's Waltham, Hampshire
  • Thence by descent to her great-granddaughter, The Hon. Pamela Margaret Stanley, later Lady Cunynghame of Milncraig (1909–1991), London
  • By whom sold, London, Sotheby's, 27 November 1963, Lot 9, for £10,000 (as Alessandro Filipepi, called Botticelli)
  • There acquired by Butler as agent for the present owner

Estimated to fetch more than US$40 million

This painting is thought to date to the final years of Botticelli’s artistic practice, from the years circa 1500 to perhaps 1510 – the year he died.

Paintings by this Italian Renaissance Master in his later years are rare. Unlike his earlier and more poetic scenes such as The Birth of Venus (circa 1485) and Primavera (Spring, circa 1470s-1480s), Botticelli’s output from the 1490s and onward is more sombre and spiritual in nature – exemplified through the Man of Sorrows.

Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus (circa 1485) | The Uffizi Gallery 

Sandro Botticelli's Primavera (Spring, circa 1470s-1480s) | The Uffizi Gallery

By 1494, Florence was invaded by foreign armies and the influential Medici family was expelled. Dominican friar, Girolamo Savonarola, grew in power and popularity. A charismatic preacher, he railed against the sin and iniquity of the Florentine people, becoming a veiled religious dictator.

He demanded that the citizens purge themselves of sin and instigated the Bonfire of the Vanities: luxury objects, clothing and paintings considered idolatrous were burned – including possibly some works by Botticelli.

The Florentine Master was profoundly influenced Savonarola. After the Dominican friar's trial and death in 1498, the late Botticelli continued to create artworks characterised by Christian symbolism and visionary spirituality.  

Girolamo Savonarola was the Dominican friar that influenced Botticelli's later works

Rooted in early Christian imagery, half-length depictions of Christ reached their culmination during the High Renaissance. The potency of this representation inspired varied treatments of the theme – Northern Renaissance artists focused on the trauma of Christ’s Passion, while Italian artists explored his inherent humanity.

In his design of the Man of Sorrows, Botticelli integrated three images from different iconographic traditions that transcends time.

Firstly, he used the archetypal image of the later Middle Ages (circa 1250-1500) of Christ as the Man of Sorrows (or Imago pietatis), a devotional image in which Christ prominently displays the wounds in his side and hands after His Crucifixion.

The second image is the Ecce Homo (Behold the Man) – the moment when a scourged Christ stands before Pontius Pilate (Roman official who presided over the trial of Jesus and later ordered His Crucifixion) and a crowd. In this tradition, Christ is shown bound with ropes with his arms crossed before him, and he wears a crown of thorns and a purple robe – the colour representing his royal status as Christ the King.

The final one is the vera icon or true image of Christ's face – as represented on Saint Veronica’s veil as he carried His Cross on the way to Calvary. In this tradition, Christ is often shown frontally and upright – in direct confrontation to the viewer.

Close-up of the cross and crown of thorns found near Christ's head  

Different angels holding the Arma Christi around Christ's head 

In this present painting, Botticelli depicts Christ’s head surrounded by angels – painted en grisaille and collectively form a halo.

Apart from one, the angels cover their faces from the sight before them, as they hold the Arma Christi. These are weapons that Christ used to achieve his victory over Satan and evil, which include:

  • The Cross | The ancient torture instrument for the execution of apostates and criminals. Jesus was crucified and became a symbol of suffering
  • The Spear of Longinus | A long weapon used by Roman soldier, Longinus, to stab Jesus on the side to confirm whether Jesus on the cross has died
  • Crown of Thorns | Roman soldier used to mock Jesus for calling himself King of the Jews
  • Whip | Roman soldiers used on Jesus before His Crucifixion
  • Ladder | The ladder used to take Jesus' body down from the Cross
  • Pillar | Pillar to which Jesus was bound while being whipped
  • Pincers | Pincers were used to pull the nails out of Jesus
  • Nails | Three nails were used to nail Jesus' two hands and feet to the Cross
  • Sponge | Roman soldiers dipped a sponge in vinegar and offered it to Jesus before His Death

During a recent technical analysis in preparation for the sale, Sotheby's discovered that there was an incomplete image buried beneath the panel's paint. The image is believed to be a Madonna and Child. 

Visible under infrared, the panel contains an incomplete image of another painting

The incomplete image is believed to be a Madonna and Child 

Former owners

The Man of Sorrows was first recorded in the collection of Mrs. Adelaide Kemble Sartoris (1814-1879). A famed English opera singer, along with her husband, were two influential socialites in Victorian England and in Rome.

The painting descended in the family to Adelaide’s great granddaughter, Pamela Margaret Stanley (1815-1879), who sold it at auction in 1963 for £10,000 pounds (US$28,000 dollars).

Since then, the painting remained in the same private collection – unseen until its recent inclusion in the 2009 to 2010 exhibition, Botticelli: Likeness, Myth, Devotion, at Stadel Museum, Frankfurt.

Nearly 60 years later, Man of Sorrows will be sold at Sotheby's New York, and is expected to sell for more than US$40 million dollars. The international auction house has a guarantee on the painting, so it is certain that the painting will be sold.

Pamela Margaret Stanley (pictured above) inherited the Man of Sorrows from her great grandmother, Adelaide Kemble Sartois 

Other highlight lots: 

Lot 23 | Antonio Correggio | Saint Mary Magdalen reading, Oil on panel

Panel: 22.5 x. 27.7 cm | Framed: 33.5 x 39 cm  

  • Probably commissioned for Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Mantua (1474–1539), Ducal Palace, Mantua, after 1517
  • Possibly Carlo Beccaria (1605–1680), treasurer of the Farnese, Parma (according to his inventory of 1680, transcribed by Filangieri di Candida 1902)
  • Farnese collection, Parma, by c. 1680 or slightly later c. 1690–95 until 1736; recorded in the Palazzo del Giardino, in the third of the principal rooms, called that of the "Madonna of the Cat," by c. 1680 or slightly later c. 1690–95; in the Galleria, by 1708; in the Palazzo Ducale, by 1731; in the Palazzo Reale, hanging in the ‘primo Corridore’, by 1736 (in the inventory made for the transfer of the collection to Naples)
  • Farnese collection, Naples, from after 1736 until probably the 1790s
  • Private collection, Virginia, USA, from about 1860 onwards
  • Whence acquired by the present owner

Estimate: US$4,500,000 – 5,500,000

Lot 17 | Egyptian Limestone Figure of a Man

Created in late 5th century, circa 2440-2335 BCE
Height: 80.3 cm

  • Excavated at Giza (Serdab of Weri and Meti [G2415]), by American archaeologist George Andrew Reisner on behalf of the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts, Boston expedition, and awarded to the museum by the Egyptian Government Antiquities Service in 1921
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, December 14th, 1978, Lot 304, illus.)
  • British Rail Pension Fund, United Kingdom (Sotheby's, London, July 2nd, 1996, no. 52)
  • Acquired by the present owner after the above sale

Estimate: US$3,000,000 – 5,000,000

Lot 10 | Giovanni Bellini | The Madonna and Child at a Ledge with an Apple: The Philips Madonna, Tempera and oil on panel, gold ground

Panel: 76.8 x 53 cm | Framed: 101.9 x 79.7 cm

  • With Dowdeswell Gallery, London, before 1888
  • Charles Loeser, Florence, 1888
  • From whom acquired by Julius Böhler, Munich, 1913
  • From whom acquired by Dr. Anton F. Philips (1874–1951), Eindhoven, 1913
  • Thence by descent to the present owner

Estimate: US$3,000,000 – 5,000,000

Lot 31 | Artemisia Gentileschi | Portrait of a seated lady, three-quarter length, in an elaborate and gold-embroidered costume, possibly Caterina Savelli, Principessa di Albano, Oil on canvas

Canvas: 130.2 x 98.1 cm | Framed: 149 x 116.8 cm

  • Sir Foster Cunliffe, Bt., Acton Hall, Wrexham, no. 25
  • His deceased sale ("Sold by Order of the Trustees"), London, Sotheby's, 1 February 1950, Lot 135, for £40 to Wollheim (as Sustermans)
  • Richard Wollheim, Esq., London
  • Mrs. James Hasson
  • By whom sold, London, Christie's, 20 February 1981, Lot 92 (as J. Sustermans)
  • With Trafalgar Galleries, London, 1983
  • Barbara Piasecka Johnson Foundation, Princeton, from 1987
  • Anonymous sale ("The Property of a Private Collector"), London, Sotheby's, 8 July 1999, Lot 73
  • There acquired

Estimate: US$2,000,000 – 3,000,000

Lot 20 | Andrea del Sarto | Portrait of a man wearing a large hat, with a box of wax seals resting on a ledge before him, Oil on canvas

Canvas: 81 x 64 cm | Framed: 98.4 x 80 cm

  • Private collection, Naples
  • Brought by the family of the above to New York when they emigrated, 1908
  • Thence by descent

Estimate: US$2,000,000 – 3,000,000

Sale Details:

Auction House: Sotheby’s New York

Sale: Master Paintings and Sculpture Part I

Date and Time: 27 January 2022 | 10am (New York local time)

Number of lots: 57