A Rare Masterpiece by Bernardino Luini, Who Was Once Thought to Be the Painter of Salvator Mundi, Could Fetch €1.8m at Auction

Salvator Mundi, a rediscovered painting by Leonardo da Vinci became the world's most expensive work of art after being sold for a record-smashing US$450m in November 2017. Before the reattribution, it was once thought to be the work of da Vinci's studio assistant, Bernardino Luini. On 14 November, a masterpiece by Bernardino Luini that came from the same collection where Salvator Mundi was kept in will go under the hammer for €1.8m-2m in Paris. This painting will be offered as lot no. 60 in Aguttes Auction House Old Masters Painting auction. Full catalogue is available here.

Bernardino Luini, Madonna and Child with St George and an Angel

The US$450m Salvator Mundi was at the time considered to be painted by Bernardino Luini

The moment when Salvator Mundi was sold for a record-setting price

During the commemorations of the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci's death, the Aguttes auction house is selling a major work by the Italian genius's foremost pupil, Bernardino Luini (c.1480-1532). This oil on panel of the Madonna and Child with St George and an angel will be presented at Drouot this coming Thursday.

The work is not unknown to the art market. It was bought in London two years ago by its current owner, a collector living in Germany, when it was part of Sir Francis Cook's collection, one of the most important assembled in England during the 19th century.

But many people are unaware of the extensive discoveries made since this acquisition. These reveal that the painting was a major piece by the artist, whose works were eagerly sought after by Lombard dignitaries in the late 15th and early 16th century.

Sir Francis Cook (1817- 1901) was one of the leading English collectors of the late 19th and early 20th century

The first known provenance of the Madonna and Child with St George and an angel was the collection of Sir Francis Cook (1817- 1901), 1st Baronet, Visconde de Monserrate, one of the leading English collectors of the late 19th and early 20th century. Cook was the head of one of Britain's main trading firms, and as a keen art lover began to collect paintings in the 1840s. However, he acquired the core of his collection – the Italian schools – between 1860 and 1890, and started taking advice from Sir Charles Robinson (1824 -1913) in 1869. Robinson was the curator of Queen Victoria's painting galleries, and the former director of the painting department at the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria & Albert Museum).

The Long Gallery, Doughty House, in around 1925.

This was the context in which the Madonna and Child with St George and an angel arrived at Doughty House in Richmond, and was hung alongside paintings by Fra Angelico, Filippo Lippi, Sandro Botticelli and Andrea del Sarto, and the Salvator Mundi attributed to Bernardino Luini at its purchase by Sir Charles Robinson: an attribution that has recently been put forward again.

The collection catalogue published by Herbert Cook and Tancred Borenius

In 1913, Herbert Cook (3rd baronet, grandson of Francis, art historian and patron of the National Portrait Gallery in London) published a limited edition of the collection catalogue with Tancred Borenius. They devoted a double page to Luini's painting, illustrating it with a large reproduction and a long descriptive commentary. The catalogue tells us that Luini's Madonna and Child hung in the Long Gallery, where the collection's masterpieces could be seen.

Bernardino Luini, Madonna and Child with St Augustine and St Margaret, c. 1507
Oil on wood, panel. 142 x 142 cm. © RMN- Grand Palais/Agence Bulloz, Musée Jacquemart-André.

In the 16th century, Luini was the most famous Milanese painter of his time. Born in around 1480 in Dumenza, he arrived in Milan in 1500 as an apprentice. He left the city in 1504, returning three years later to paint the high altar piece of the Madonna and Child with St Augustine and St Margaret, now in the Musée Jacquemart- André in Paris.

At the beginning of his career, Luini was well-known in Lombardy as an excellent fresco painter, and was commissioned to paint monumental works in Milan, Saronno (a public commission from the city for the Santuario della Beata Vergine dei Miracoli), Lugano (Santa Maria degli Angioli) and many other venues in the region.

Bernardino Luini, The Infant Jesus Sleeping, oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm, 92 x 73 cm.
© Musée du Louvre/A. Dequier - M. Bard.

When Leonardo da Vinci was working in Milan from 1482 to 1499, and above all from 1504 until he left for France, Luini and his contemporary Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (1467-1516) were his most talented pupils and assistants. The master's influence on Luini's work is often obvious, particularly in his use of sfumato and the composition of his easel paintings, like the Madonna and Child with St John the Baptist (c. 1510; National Gallery of London). Drawing on his apprenticeship with Leonardo and his work as a fresco painter, Luini developed his own style, which found its most accomplished expression in his easel paintings. In works like The Infant Jesus Sleeping (Musée du Louvre), we find Leonardo-like features characterising a Virgin full of dignity and maternal tenderness. On the other hand, the glowing shades are typical of the colourist's frescoes.

Luini was highly popular, as can be seen from the number of commissions he received. His major masterpieces were produced at the behest of prominent Italian families of the time, like the Calvi of Menaggio, who certainly commissioned the Madonna and Child with an angel, also known as the Menaggio Madonna. This panel was probably painted in around 1520-1530 for the Sant’Andrea altar in the Church of Menaggio, near Como. The work joined the Louvre collections in 1914, when the Marquise Arconati-Visconti donated it to the museum. Luini's prestige is also illustrated by the provenance of his Infant Jesus Sleeping, now in the Grande Galerie at the Louvre. This painting was offered as a diplomatic gift to Louis XIV in 1664 by Pope Alexander VII via his legate, Cardinal Fabio Chigi.


Bernardino Luini, Madonna and Child with St George and an angel. Published in Borenius, Op. cit., 1913, p. 129.

The Madonna and Child with St George and an angel that Aguttes is presenting has undergone various stages of restoration work over the years, as is common with paintings half a millennium old. The restoration undertaken by Signor Cavenaghi in Milan in 1898 is mentioned in the Cook catalogue. Further work was certainly carried out in the 20th century, and very recent restoration dates from around a decade ago, when clumsy overpainting rigidified the faces, and a coat of yellow varnish altered the original colours.

Before restoration (left) and after restoration (right)

When the auction house discovered the painting, it hardly produced the thrilling effect one would expect with such an important work of the Renaissance. The latest operation involved entirely removing the most recent overpainting, lightening the varnish and partially cleaning the second layer of restoration work.

Three stages in the present-day restoration of the painting

This cleaning process revealed all the beauty of the painting: the modelling typical of Luini can be seen in the flesh tints, while the lively colours of the clothing, like the pink, blue and orange of the Virgin's mantle, have regained their brilliance.

The most important discovery beneath the layers of restoration work is the face of Jesus, where the transparent texture of his skin, life-like flesh and tender gaze have now been brought to light.

The Madonna and Child with St George and an angel is a subject found in Jacques de Voragine's The Golden Legend. This book written in Latin between 1261 and 1266 recounts the lives of some 150 saints or groups of saints.

Sodoma, Saint George and the dragon, c. 1518, oil on wood, 137.8 × 97.6 cm. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Here Luini shows the scene in a complex and original way. The tightly-framed composition, which includes four gures and two animals, focuses the viewer's eye on the central, highly symbolic exchange between St George and the Child. The dynamic energy of the painting lies in the narrative aspect of the scene. In this it is highly original, because the "usual" image of St George shows him in action killing the dragon, as with the St George and the Dragon by Sodoma (1477-1549), which also belonged to Sir Francis Cook (National Gallery of Art, Washington).

A close up at the present Madonna and Child with St George and an Angel

A close up at the present Madonna and Child with St George and an Angel

A close up at the present Madonna and Child with St George and an Angel

A close up at the present Madonna and Child with St George and an Angel

In the painting here, the dragon has already been defeated: in the background, we see its headless body lying on the ground by the white horse. In the foreground, the interlaced hands illustrate four actions: St George gives the monster's head to Jesus; Jesus points to it as a sign of acceptance; in exchange he gives the divine palm of victory to the saint, who receives it. The scene symbolises the resolution of the combat between the Saint and the dragon, and the triumph of Good over Evil fundamental to the Christian faith.

A close up at the present Madonna and Child with St George and an Angel

A close up at the present Madonna and Child with St George and an Angel

A close up at the present Madonna and Child with St George and an Angel

The plants, depicted with virtually scientific accuracy, have a wealth of interpretations. Often typical of vegetation in Northern Italy and Lombardy, they also symbolise different episodes in the life of Christ and various qualities of the Virgin. The same plants appear in e Madonna and Child with an angel, aka the Menaggio Madonna.

This painting, which can be dated to the latter part of Luini's career, can be seen as a synthesis of the styles he absorbed and made his own.

Leonardo's influence is perceptible in the imaginary city in a mountainous landscape beneath a blue sky, the Virgin's kindly expression, her auburn hair with its elegant curls (inevitably evoking the master's female figures), the subtle play of light and shade known as sfumato – Leonardo's speciality –, the light, luminous texture of the flesh tones and the true-to-life transparency of the skin.

Copy kept in private collection, Christie's sale, Monaco, 1988.

Copy kept in the parish church of Masnago, Varese.

Luini had such a glowing reputation that three copies of the painting were made. One, from the 16th century, is now in the parish church of Masnago, near Varese. Another, in private hands, was sold in Monaco in 1988, and the third is now in the Bucharest National Museum of Art. While the composition is reproduced exactly, there is a considerable difference in the quality of painting between these copies and Luini's remarkable work, presented here.

Although it is true that little is known about his life and career, the fact that he was forgotten was due to a mistake made by Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), the biographer of the great artists, who called him "di Lupino" in his book Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, 1550. The author describes him as "a very delicate and pleasing painter" who "executed most perfectly in fresco. He also worked with a very high finish in oils, and he was a courteous person, and very liberal with his possessions; wherefore he deserves all the praise that is due to any craftsman who makes the works and ways of his daily life shine by the adornment of courtesy no less than do his works of art.” In the 19th century, when the misunderstanding was cleared up, Vasari's praise earned Luini the nickname of the "Lombardy Raphael".

Bernardino Luini, Christ among the Doctors, 1515-30, oil on wodd, 72.4 X 85.7cm, Holwell Carr Bequest, 1831. Courtesy of the National Gallery, London 2019

Subsequently, several of his works were attributed to Leonardo da Vinci before authorship was restored to him through research in art history. This was the case, for example, with Christ among the Doctors, now in the National Gallery, London, which was reattributed to Luini when it was acquired by the museum.

The artist was also the subject of much attention in the 19th century, when great writers of Romantic Europe, including Stendhal, recommended their readers to go and see Luini's frescoes in Saronno to "say farewell to the beautiful painting of Italy". In the Cook collection catalogue published by Herbert Cook and Tancred Borenius in 1913, the latter wrote, "Luini has a real sense of beauty, and he exercises a genuine fascination in some of his earliest works, through his cheerful, pleasant temperament and poetic imagination."

In 2014, the Palazzo Reale in Milan devoted a major exhibition to him, entitled "Bernardino Luini e i suoi figli". But what really brought Bernardino Luini back into the limelight was the spectacular sale in 2017 of Salvator Mundi, knocked down for €450m – because the most expensive art work in the world was originally attributed to him.

Bernardino Luini (circa. 1480 - 1532). Madonna and Child with St. George and an Angel

Size: Oil on panel 103.5x79.5cm

  • Sir Francis Cook, 1st Baronet, Visconde de Monserrate (1817-1901), Doughty House, Richmond, 1875, and by descent in the Long Gallery of Sir Francis Cook, 4th Baronet (1907-1978), husband of Lady Brenda Cook
  • Christie's, 6 July 2017, bought at this sale by the current owner.

Estimate: €1,800,000 - 2,000,000

Auction details
Auction house: Aguttes
Auction date: Thursday, 14 November 2019 | 6pm
Auction venue: Saleroom oom 6, Drouot, 9 rue Drouot, 75009 Paris
Public viewing:

  • Tuesday, 12 November | 11am - 6pm
  • Wednesday, 13 November | 11am - 6pm
  • Thursday, 14 November | 11am - 4.30pm


  • Metro: lines 7, 8, 9, 12
  • Richelieu-Drouot stop (lines 8, 9)
  • Le Peletier stop (line 7)
  • Notre-Dame de Lorette stop (line 12). Bus: 20, 39, 42, 48, 67, 74, 85
  • 24-hour car park: 12, rue Chauchat - 75009 Paris

Auction house specialist: 
Grégoire Lacroix, Old Master Paintings and Drawings department Head of Department Grégoire Lacroix
+33 (0) 6 98 20 77 42

Claude Aguttes
Sophie Perrine