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Botticelli painting with hidden drawing sells for $45.4M at auction

Workers hold "The Man of Sorrows" by Sandro Botticelli, which is on display at a media preview for Sotheby's Masters Week in New York City on January 21, 2022. A hidden drawing was recently discovered underneath the painting. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 27 (UPI) -- A painting of Christ by Italian Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli sold for $45.4 million at auction Thursday, some $5 million more than expected, Sotheby's announced.

The portrait of a resurrected Christ, The Man of Sorrows, was the marquee item in the auction house's New York Old Master paintings sale. It fetched the highest price for a Renaissance painting in the past five years.

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Overall, the Old Masters sale brought Sotheby's $91 million Thursday.

"As the first major sale of 2022, today's auction result is a resounding vote of confidence for the international art market and the market for Old Masters," said Christopher Apostle, head of Sotheby's Old Masters Painting Department. "The sale was sourced globally, and sold globally to a broad international spread of buyers, with collectors hailing from across the United States, Europe, Russia, and Asia. Altogether, there was very strong bidding across the sale and at every price point, led of course by Botticelli's Man of Sorrows, but with excellent results throughout."

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Prior to Thursday's sale, The Man of Sorrows was one of only three works from Botticelli's late period -- post-1492 -- still held in private hands. The last Botticelli artwork to go to auction, Young Man Holding a Roundel, set a new record for the artist, fetching $92.2 million in January 2021.

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The Man of Sorrows attracted new attention this month, though, after Sotheby's researchers discovered the painting held a secret -- a hidden drawing of a Madonna and child underneath the layers of paint.

Infrared imaging of the painting revealed the partial and unrelated drawing, indicating the panel was originally meant for a different subject. The outlines of the mother and child are upside down compared to the final painting of Christ, showing the figures pressed together cheek to cheek in an embrace.

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"The head of the Christ Child, with his upward gaze, is supported by the left hand of the Madonna, and the thick folds of her mantle are visible at her shoulder near the right of the composition," a description of the painting on the Sotheby's website says.

"This particular compositional pose is found in a number of paintings by Botticelli and from his workshop, indicating that the earlier idea for a painting of the Madonna, a mainstay of Botticelli's production, was replaced with what would be a virtually unique and inspired invention by the master."

Sotheby's said Botticelli was inspired by the fanatical preaching of Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola when painting The Man of Sorrows, which depicts Jesus with crucifixion wounds, a crown of thorns and a halo of tiny angels. Savonarola preached against sin and encouraged the burning of artworks considered to be a luxury or idolatrous.

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Also sold Thursday were Artemisia Gentileschi's Portrait of a Seated Lady ($2.7 million) and Susanna and the Elders ($2.1 million), Anne Vallayer-Coster's Still Life of Flowers in a Vase ($1.8 million, an artist record), an Egyptian limestone figure of a man ($9.9 million) and Pieter van Mol's Diogenes Looking for an Honest Man ($5.8 million).

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