Previously Missing Masterpiece By Titian Sells For $22M in Auction

Entitled “The Rest on the Flight Into Egypt,” the painting went missing for seven years before an art detective found it, and now stands as the most valuable Titian piece ever sold in auction. 

A painting by the legendary Italian master Titian recently sold for $22 million during a Christie’s Old Masters Part I auction in London. This marks a new record for the Renaissance artist, exceeding the sale of his $16.9 million piece “A Sacra Conversazione” in a 2011 Sotheby’s auction, reports Maxwell Rabb of Artsy

“The Rest on the Flight Into Egypt” (18 ¼ x 24 3⁄4 inches, oil on canvas)/Photo from the Christie’s website

Entitled “The Rest on the Flight Into Egypt,” the 18 ¼ x 24 3⁄4-inch oil painting depicts the Virgin Mary with her husband Joseph and an infant Jesus. With bucolic surroundings, it depicts the family experiencing a moment of respite during a trip to Egypt. As Christie’s writes in a press release, it references a Biblical account where Joseph receives a warning about King Herod of Judea’s plans to kill the young Christ, and decides to take his family to Egypt for their safety. 

READ ALSO: Missing Masterpiece: What To Know About The Recently Stolen Amorsolo Painting Worth Millions Of Pesos

Coveted, Stolen, and Found

The painting holds a storied past, as it was once passed down from one aristocrat to another—including Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria. Napoleonic troops took it from its home in Belvedere Palace during the French occupation of Vienna in 1809, bringing it to Paris before it later returned to Vienna in 1815 (Napoleon’s fall). 

The portrait for scale/Photo from the Christie’s website

Scottish landowner and art patron Hugh Andrew Johnstone Munro became the next owner of the piece until his death. Christie’s then sold the painting to John Alexander Thynne, 4th Marquess of Bath, in an 1878 sale. The marquess hung it in the State Drawing Room of his home, Longleat House, where it remained until someone stole it in 1995.

It went missing for seven years before heirs of the estate contacted prominent art detective Charles Hill, offering a £100,000 reward, according to Margaret Carrigan of Artnet. In 2002, Hill found the painting without its frame and inside a plastic bag in a London bus stop, likely as an exchange for the reward; the painting finally returned it to its rightful owners in Longleat. 

A painting of the Longleat Estate, “A View of Longleat” (1675) by Johannes Siberechts/Photo via Wikimedia Commons

“As the next chapter in the Rest on the Flight into Egypt’s story is written, I am pleased with the outcome [of the sale]; which will support our considerable long-term investment strategy at Longleat to build on the vision and legacy of my ancestors for the benefit of future generations,” expresses Lord Bath, a descendant of the 4th Marquess and inheritor of the Longleat estate, in a feature by Artnet

A Look at Titian

Tiziano Vecellio, who adopted the pseudonym “Titian,” is one of the most gifted Renaissance artists. A child prodigy, he moved to Venice to pursue art at the tender age of 10. Here, he became the apprentice of Giovanni Bellini, one of the Italian city’s leading painters at the time. 

A self-portrait of Titian/Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Though experts do not know who commissioned “The Rest on the Flight Into Egypt,” based on dating and knowledge of the artist’s life, he had likely painted it very early into his artistic career when he was just in his late teens or “barely 20 years old,” as Christie’s writes. The earliest records of the painting are in the first years of the 17th century, in the collection of Venetian spice merchant Bartolomeo della Nave. 

The auction house describes the artist’s earlier works as “intimate in scale,” with a more deliberate application of paint compared to the expressive brushwork of his later years. 

“For one so young, he shows quite the grasp of sentiment and humanity. Both Joseph and Mary look pensive, reflecting a slight foreboding in the air,” Christie’s states in a press release. “The white swaddling cloth on the latter’s knee, from which her son has momentarily been freed, alludes to the shroud with which Christ’s body will be wrapped for burial years later.”

“This picture has captured the imaginations of audiences for more than half a millennia and will no doubt continue to do so,” shares Orlando Rock, chairman of Christie’s UK, according to a feature by Jack Guy of CNN

Banner photo from the Christie’s website.

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