500-year-old master’s painting last seen publicly in 2009 recently sold for $45-million at Sotheby’s auction

Sandro Botticelli’s painting, “Man of Sorrows,” was sold last month at a Sotheby’s old master’s auction for $45.4 million, making it the second most expensive work by the painter to be sold at an auction.

A total of three phone bidders joined the seven-minute battle for the 500-year-old painting at the live-streamed Master Paintings Part I auction held at Sotheby’s.

Two final bidders, represented by Sotheby’s senior Old Master specialists Christopher Apostle and Liz Lobkowicz, vied for the painting, bringing the hammer price up to $39.3 million, in line with its presale estimate of $40 million.

Man of Sorrows painting by Sandro Botticelli

The price for the masterpiece surpassed the Italian Renaissance artist’s previous second-highest auction set for “The Rockefeller Madonna,” which sold for $10.4 million at Christie’s in 2013.

In January 2021, Sotheby’s sold Botticelli’s “Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Roundel” for $92.2 million to a Russian bidder, an event credited for providing a boost to the market for Old Master paintings.

The sale of “Man of Sorrows” has done the same, making a shift among auction houses that have been focusing on blue-chip sales of old-world trophies.

Man of Sorrows painting by Sandro Botticelli

The recently sold Botticelli masterpiece is a bust-length portrait of Jesus Christ wearing a crown of thorns on his head, surrounded by flying angels that form a halo. Christ is set against a black background wearing a pleated crimson robe, his long hair flowing.

His hands are tried with ropes and appear wounded, and his gaze is both serene and sorrowful.

“Clothed in billowing fabrics, their graceful figures contrast markedly with the crown of long, sharp, blue-green thorns. All but one angel shield their grief-stricken faces from the sight before them, as they hold the Arma Christi or the instruments of Christ’s Passion that symbolize his death and suffering,” described the auction house.

The back of the Man of Sorrows painting by Sandro Botticelli

As the painter entered the final years of life in the late 15th century and early 16th century, his faith grew stronger, inspiring him to create religious portraits. His latter pieces are a far cry from his earlier secular works featuring Italian noblemen and mythology scenes.

“Man of Sorrows” was created at a time when Botticelli was greatly influenced by the fanatical Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola. And the result? A realistic portrayal of Christ that captures his divinity perfectly.

Man of Sorrows painting by Sandro Botticelli

Botticelli’s paintings, including the “Madonna and Child,” “The Birth of Venus,” and “Primavera,” rarely ever appear on the auction market. Only a few remain in the ownership of private individuals.

The “Man of Sorrows” has been sold from a private American collection and had not changed hands since it last appeared at a 1963 auction, when it sold for $28,000.

Art historian Federico Zeri verified the painting’s authenticity as a work by Botticelli when the portrait was sold almost half a century ago. It has only been displayed in public once, in 2009, during a special exhibition at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, Germany.

The painting being carried by employees

“Botticelli’s Man of Sorrows is one of the most potent, humbling works I have ever encountered,” said Christopher Apostle, the head of Sotheby’s Old Masters painting department, after the work’s sale.

“Although seemingly religious, it’s a painting of enormous humanity—a portrait of human suffering and spirituality that speaks a universal language. Today’s result is not only testament to its power and importance, but also to the timelessness of works painted some 500 years ago.”

Congratulations to the lucky buyer who now owns this rare masterpiece!

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