NEW YORK – This month, Sotheby’s is offering works by many of the most celebrated names in European art history during its flagship Masters Week, a series of seven auctions encompassing Old Master paintings, drawings and sculpture spanning more than half a millennium. Focused around two of the highest value Old Master Paintings ever offered at auction, this first major global sales series of 2021 will be headlined by Sandro Botticelli’s masterpiece Young Man Holding a Roundel, one of the most significant portraits of any period ever to appear at auction, and a defining work of the Florentine Renaissance, and Rembrandt’s rare biblical scene of Abraham and the Angels.
Two of the sales in this Masters Week series will be presented in Sotheby’s signature global livestream auction format: “Master Paintings & Sculpture Part I” on Jan. 28 and “Fearless: The Collection of Hester Diamond” on Jan. 29.
It was in Early Renaissance Italy that portraits of notable individuals first came to be considered high art. Florentine master Sandro Botticelli was at the forefront of this transformation, depicting his subjects in the second half of the 15th century with unprecedented directness and insight – decades before Leonardo da Vinci painted his enduring Mona Lisa. Botticelli was celebrated in his own time and sought out, from an early age, by the richest of patrons for commissions that only they could afford. But while he created some of the most arresting and penetrating portraits in the history of Western Art, only around a dozen examples have survived today – with almost all of them now residing in major museum collections. Sotheby’s will offer one of Botticelli’s finest portraits, Young Man Holding a Roundel, with an estimate in excess of $80 million, which will establish it in art market history as one of the most significant portraits, of any period, ever to appear at auction.
Measuring just 6⅜ by 8⅜ inches (16 x 21cm), Abraham and the Angels is a profoundly beautiful, gem-like painting on panel from 1646 that stands among the finest works by Dutch Golden Age master Rembrandt van Rijn ever to come to auction. The painting last appeared at auction in London in 1848, when it sold for £64, and returns to the auction block this January with an estimate of $20 million-$30 million. Of the total 136 biblical paintings Rembrandt produced, the work is one of only five remaining in private hands, with the large majority in prominent museum collections. Among these biblical paintings, only 29 depict Old Testament scenes, with the panel to be offered representing one of only two examples in private hands.
The sale includes a strong selection of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish paintings, from impressive portraits by Aert de Gelder and Sir Anthony van Dyck to still lifes by Rachel Ruysch, Willem van Aelst, Ambrosius Bosschaert and Willem Claesz. Heda, whose depiction of A banquet piece with an overturned tazza and oysters ranks among the best of his lengthy and successful career (estimate $2.5million-$3.5 million). An extremely rare canvas of the Descent from the Cross by Hugo van der Goes highlights the Renaissance section (estimate $3 million-$5 million), which also includes works from the great early Italian painters Apollonio di Giovanni, Taddeo di Bartolo and Sano di Pietro, and a wonderful glazed terra-cotta relief of the Madonna and Child by Luca della Robbia on offer from the Albert-Knox Art Gallery (estimate $700,000-$1 million). The sale also includes a number of important paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries, including a pair of large landscapes by Hubert Robert, a charming painting by William Bouguereau, and a large-scale gold ground of the Greek goddess Erato by Frederic, Lord Leighton (estimate $700,000-$1 million).