Renaissance Master Botticelli’s Portrait of Christ garners US$45.4 million

In 2021, Sotheby’s sold Botticelli’s Portrait of a Young Man holding a Roundel masterpiece, which set an auction record for the artist at US$92.1 million dollars.

This year, the international auction house turned its attention again to the Italian Renaissance Old Master in their Master Paintings and Sculpture Part I Sale in New York. His Man of Sorrows oeuvre was sold at US$45.4 million dollars with buyer’s premium, and became the artist’s second highest auction record.

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

Hammer Price: US$39,300,000

Sold: US$45,419,700

Elisabeth Lobkowicz (left) and Christopher Apostle (right) competing for Botticelli's Man of Sorrows masterpiece

Auctioneer David Pollack opened the bidding at US$33 million dollars.

There were two main bidders through Elisabeth Lobkowicz, Specialist in Old Masters Paintings Department, New York; and Christopher Apostle, Head of Old Masters Paintings Department, New York.

The two competed for more than 5 bids, and the auctioneer dropped the hammer at US$39.3 million dollars. The winning bid was by Lobkowicz for her client with paddle number 46. In the end, the painting was sold at US$45.4 million dollars, with buyer’s premium – within its expectations.

The top three auction records of Botticelli are:

  1. Portrait of a Young Man holding a Roundel (circa 1480) | 58.4 x 39.4 | Tempera on poplar panel | Sold: US$92.1 million | Sotheby’s New York, January 2021   
  2. Man of Sorrows | Panel: 69 x 51.4 cm, Framed: 116.2 x 100 cm | Tempera and oil on panel | Sold: US$45.4 million | Sotheby’s New York, January 2022
  3. Madonna and Child with Young Saint John the Baptist (Rockefeller Madonna) | 46.3 x 36.8 cm | Tempera, oil and gold on panel | Sold: US$10.4 million | Christie’s New York, January 2013

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

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).

Nearly 60 years later, Man of Sorrows appeared at Sotheby's. This time in New York, the international auction house placed an irrevocable bid on the masterpiece, so it was certain that the painting would be sold.

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

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.

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.

The incomplete image is believed to be a Madonna and Child 

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

Hammer Price: US$8,400,000

Sold: US$9,915,600

The second most expensive lot was an ancient Egyptian limestone statue with a history of more than 4,000 years. It sold at US$9.9 million dollars – making it the second most expensive ancient Egyptian work of art in auction history.

In 2014, the Egyptian work of art auction record was set when limestone figure from the Fifth Dynasty (circa 2400-2300 BCE), fetched £15.7 million pounds (around US$20.9 million dollars) at Christie’s London. 

The sculpture depicts a court official called Sekhemka and his wife, Sitmerit.

Lot 6 | Pieter van Mol | Diogenes with his lantern looking for an honest man, Oil on panel

Panel: 65 x 84.6 cm | Framed: 97.8 x 116.8 cm

  • Paul-Henri-Thiry, baron d’Holbach (1723 - 1789), Paris
  • His estate sale, Paris, 11 March 1789, Lot 8 (for 4,761 livres)
  • There acquired by Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun (1748 - 1813), Paris
  • By whom sold, Paris, 11 April - 8 May 1791, Lot 86 (for 5,948 livres)
  • There acquired by Francois-Pascal Haudry (1718 - 1800), Orleans
  • By whom offered by private treaty, Orleans, 4 August 1800, Lot 963
  • Anonymous sale, Paris, 25-28 January 1802, Lot no. 98 (for 10,461 livres)
  • There acquired by Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Lebrun (1748 - 1813), Paris
  • Sold to Lucien Bonaparte (1775–1840), 1st Prince of Canino and Musignano, Rome, before 1804 (for 11,000 francs)
  • Baron James Mayer de Rothschild (1792–1868), or his son Baron Alphonse de Rothschild (1827–1905), after 1825, Paris
  • Thence by descent until sold, New York, Sotheby's, 30 January 1997, Lot 9
  • There acquired

Estimate: US$2,000,000 – 3,000,000

Hammer Price: US$4,800,000

Sold: US$5,779,200

Pieter van Mol (1599-1650)'s oil painting, Diogenes with his lantern looking for an honest man, was the sale’s third most expensive lot. It was sold for US$5.7 million dollars, with buyer’s premium.

Inspired by the prominent Rubens, Pieter van Mol was also a famous Flemish painter. He was skilled at incorporating historical figures and events into his paintings.

One such figure was Diogenes – an ancient Greek philosopher from the 4th century BCE and founder of the Cynic School. It is believed that the philosopher walked around the city of Athens with a lantern and was looking for an honest man.

Other highlight lots: 

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

Hammer Price: US$2,200,000

Sold: US$2,682,000

Lot 37 | Adriaen Coorte | Still life of fraises-de-bois in a Wan-Li bowl upon a stone ledge, Oil on canvas

Created in 1704
Canvas: 30 x 22.6 cm | Framed: 50 x 42.5 cm

  • Possibly Auguste Coster, Antwerp/Brussels
  • Possibly his posthumous sale, Brussels, Joseph Fievez, 4 – 6 April 1907, Lot 68 ('Coorbe [sic] (A.) Fraises. Signe: A. Coorbe 1704. Haut., 0.28 Larg., 0.22. T[oile].')
  • Private Collection, France, for much of the 20th century
  • From whom acquired by Bob Haboldt, Paris, 2005
  • Exhibited at the Florence Biennale
  • There acquired by the present collector, 2005

Estimate: US$1,500,000 – 2,000,000

Hammer Price: US$2,000,000

Sold: US$2,440,000

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

Hammer Price: US$1,800,000

Sold: US$2,198,000

Auction Details:

Auction House: Sotheby’s New York

Sale: Master Paintings and Sculpture Part I

Date: 27 January 2022

Number of lots: 55

Sold: 41

Unsold: 14

Sale Rate: 74.5%

Sale Total: US$90,970,160