A painting by Titian sold for almost 21 million euros

Wednesday, July 3, 2024, 12:50 PM

| Updated 23:47h.

The oil painting ‘Rest on the Flight into Egypt’ by Titian, a 16th-century Venetian also known by his English name, Titian, was found in a plastic bag at a bus stop. The painting had been stolen from a mansion in an English county in 1995. Seven years later, the painting appeared without its original frame and was auctioned on Tuesday for 20.7 million euros, an unprecedented price for this artist, whose real name was Tiziano Vecellio di Gregorio, born in the town of Pieve di Cadore (1485 -1576) in the Veneto region. However, although it is a “masterpiece” and a “rarity”, in the words of the auction house Christie’s, it did not exceed the initial maximum estimate of 27 million euros.

Executed when the artist was 20 years old and measuring 46 x 63 centimetres, the painting depicts Jesus, Mary and Joseph fleeing from the king of Judea, Herod, and first belonged to another Venetian, Bartolomeo della Nave, who acquired it when Titian was still alive. In his inventories it appears as ‘Vna Madonna con S. Gioseppe, largo palmi 3. alto 2. di Titiano (Tiziano)’.

From these hands, the religious print passed to others, through dealers. In the 17th century it reached England, on the walls of the Holyroodhouse Palace of the Marquis of Hamilton and from there it passed to Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, governor of the Netherlands in 1659. The next collection to receive the painting was that of the Habsburgs for Charles VI, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, according to its history.

The painting inspired by the Gospel of Matthew passed to the Archduchess of Austria and Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, Maria Theresa, and was bequeathed to Joseph II, also emperor, who hung it in the Belvedere Palace in 1781, which was “plundered by French troops” in 1809.

intimate scale

With the French Revolution, this work somehow found its way into a Parisian church. It is described as follows: the three figures of the Holy Family depicted “are outlined against a bright sky and contrasted with a pastoral landscape that recedes. Despite the intimate scale of the image, the figures appear monumental.”

It was taken from holy soil by Napoleon, who included it in the museum that bore his name, and after that journey of aristocratic private sales and wars, it was first sold at public auction in the second half of the 19th century, when it was bought by John Alexander Thynne, fourth Marquess of Bath. Until the hammer fell on Tuesday, it was owned by the house of Longleat & Chattels, the firm of a lord and his descendants.

Titian’s work has been exhibited to the public only a few times since it was at the Royal Academy in London in 1887. It was last exhibited at the National Gallery in that city, under its current name, in 2012. During the years it was missing, the search for it was tireless and it was finally “recovered by an art detective,” says Christie’s. The painting of archdukes and emperors is changing hands again.

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