As art history lovers flock to the Louvre in Paris to see the blockbuster show celebrating the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, a new painting by his hand may have been discovered at a French chateau.
The work, a portrait of a bald man that has been in the historic house for centuries, could be by the Renaissance master, although the evidence is far from clear.
The director of the historic house, Sylvie Giroux, told Agence France Presse that â€œit is not impossibleâ€ that Leonardo painted the Italian political theorist, best known for his political treatise, The Prince.
The local archivist, Anne Gerardot, is more cautious. â€œJust because it says so in the archives does not mean itâ€™s true,â€ she told AFP, noting that she thinks the Old Master portrait more closely resembles the French Renaissance essayist Montaigne.
Thereâ€™s also the issue of the paintingâ€™s wooden support, which has a smooth appearance uncharacteristic of Leonardoâ€™s time. It could be the result of restoration work done in the 1890s, or a clue that the painting was made at a later date.
But the painting, featuring a thin, bearded figure in a black coat and white shirt with necktie, does match the description in the letter, which mentions a portrait on wood measuring 22 by 17 inches. In the letter, which is dated 1874, the estate manager who wrote it says: â€œI am having the concierge wrap up and put on the train a box containing a painting (Machiavelli by Leonardo da Vinci).â€
The chateau plans to submit the painting to a battery of tests in the hopes of determining its subject and authorship.
It’s difficult to judge from the photograph, but my own guess is: neither of the above.
An tiny early Renaissance masterpiece found in a French womanâ€™s kitchen during a house clearance has fetched more than â‚¬24m at auction, making it the most expensive medieval painting ever sold.
Christ Mocked, by the 13th-century Florentine painter Cimabue, had hung for decades above a cooking hotplate in the open-plan kitchen of a 1960s house near CompiÃ¨gne, north of Paris. It had never attracted much attention from the woman, in her 90s, or her family, who thought it was simply an old icon from Russia. It might have ended up in a bin during the house move this summer had it not been spotted by an auctioneer who had come to value furniture.
At an auction outside Paris on Sunday, the unsigned work, measuring just 26cm by 20cm, fetched â‚¬19.5m under the hammer, rising to over â‚¬24m when fees were included.
As 800 people gathered in the auction hall in Senlis, the crowd fell silent during the nail-biting final moments of bidding. Some bids came in by telephone to agents. As the auctioneer brandished his hammer as the price crept up, he said: â€œThere will never be another Cimabue at auction.â€
The painting had hung on the kitchen wall for so long that the woman, who asked to remain anonymous, told the auction house she had no idea where it had come from or how it had come into the familyâ€™s hands.
Cimabue, also known as Cenni di Pepo, was one of the pioneering artists of the early Italian Renaissance. Only 11 works painted on wood have been attributed to him, none of them signed.
In Paris, renovation work for a new retail store wound up revealing a treasure concealed within the wall. NYT
Alex Bolen, the chief executive of Oscar de la Renta, planned to have his new store in Paris open around this week, just in time for the couture shows. He planned to have a presence in the city even if he didnâ€™t have a show. He had it all figured out.
Then, last summer, in the middle of renovations, Mr. Bolen got a call from his architect, Nathalie Ryan.
â€œâ€˜We made a discovery,â€™â€ he remembered her saying. On the other end of the phone, Mr. Bolen cringed. The last time he received a call like that about a store, their plans to move a wall had to be scrapped because of fears the building would collapse. He asked what, exactly, the discovery was.
â€œYou have to come and see,â€ she told him.
So, gritting his teeth, he got on a plane from New York. Ms. Ryan took him to the second floor of what would be the shop, where workers were busily clearing out detritus, and gestured toward the end of the space. Mr. Bolen, she said, blinked. Then he said: â€œNo, itâ€™s not possible.â€
Something had been hidden behind a wall, and it wasnâ€™t asbestos. It was a 10-by-20-foot oil painting of an elaborately coifed and dressed 17th-century marquis and assorted courtiers entering the city of Jerusalem.
â€œItâ€™s very rare and exceptional, for many reasons,â€ said BenoÃ®t Janson, of the restoration specialists Nouvelle Tendance, who is overseeing work on the canvas. Namely, â€œits historical and aesthetic quality and size.â€ …
Demolition was halted to figure out what the painting was and how it came to be in what was about to be a shop. Seeing the aristocrats on horseback and the mosque in the picture, Mr. Bolen said, visions of Crusaders and Knights Templar began to dance in his head. â€œI think maybe I have seen too many movies,â€ he said. …
So when the painting was found, and it became clear Mr. Bolen would have to talk to the buildingâ€™s owners, whom he had never met (the lease had been negotiated through a broker), his relative was able to make the introductions. Another de La Rochefoucauld, who happened to work at the Louvre, got a recommendation for an art historian: Stephane Pinta of the Cabinet Turquin, an expert in old-master paintings.
Mr. Pinta determined that the painting was an oil on canvas created in 1674 by Arnould de Vuez, a painter who worked with Charles Le Brun, the first painter to Louis XIV and designer of interiors of the ChÃ¢teau de Versailles. After working with Le Brun, de Vuez, who was known for getting involved in duels of honor, was forced to flee France and ended up in Constantinople.
Mr. Pinta traced the painting to a plate that was reproduced in the 1900 book â€œOdyssey of an Ambassador: The Travels of the Marquis de Nointel, 1670-1680â€ by Albert Vandal, which told the story of the travels of Charles-Marie-FranÃ§ois Olier, Marquis de Nointel et dâ€™Angervilliers, Louis XIVâ€™s ambassador to the Ottoman Court. On Page 129, there is a rotogravure of an artwork depicting the Marquis de Nointel arriving in Jerusalem with great pomp and circumstance â€” the painting on the wall.
But how it ended up glued to that wall, no one knew, nor why it was covered up. There was speculation that maybe it happened during World War II, given the setting. It could be â€œa fog-of-war issue,â€ Mr. Bolen said.
Nobody expects to find a Rembrandt sitting under the ping-pong table in the basement. So the Landau brothers, natives of Teaneck, N.J., felt perfectly comfortable skipping their own estate auction. …
Their inheritance tale started typically: Back when Ned, Roger and Steven Landauâ€™s grandparents died, their mother cleared out their house, keeping some items that might go well in her dining room â€“ like his silver tea set and a couple of old paintings. Then mom died in 2010, and her three sons repeated the drill.
â€œWe had a garage sale, but there were a few things like the china and silver that looked very nice and we thought, well, we donâ€™t really want to just give them away,â€ Ned tells Colby in the program.
One item that again made the cut was a small painting that had always creeped out Ned.
â€œIt was of a woman passed out in a chair, and two men trying to revive her. As a kid I thought, â€˜why did we have a painting like that in our dining room?â€™â€ he says.
Momâ€™s nice stuff went straight into Rogerâ€™s basement. Though the boxes made it hard to play ping-pong, Roger procrastinated another four years before calling the estate sale guy up the parkway, John Nye. Nye valued the silver pieces at a couple of thousand dollars, and each of three paintings at a few hundred. Like Ned, Nye wasnâ€™t impressed by the picture of the men reviving the woman with smelling salts: â€œIt had varnish that had cracked and paint loss. Not a beautiful painting and the people in the picture were not beautiful people. It was remarkably unremarkable.â€
A painting offered in an estate sale by John Nye in New Jersey was appraised for $500 to $800. It had been stored for five years before the family finally got around to selling items from their motherâ€™s estate in 2015. It created an amazing sale when it sold for over $1 million. … The painting was left by a mother to her three sons in 2010. It had been left to her by her parents and she hung it in her dining room. The boys had always thought the picture of two men trying to revive a fainting woman was â€œcreepy.â€ But it was actually a Rembrandt painting from the 1600s, part of a series of paintings of the Five Senses. This one was â€œThe Unconscious Patient (An Allegory of the Sense of Smell).â€ The other four are in museums. The boys didnâ€™t even go to the sale since there were so few of their item being sold. The auction went as expected until bidding for the picture went from $250 up to $800. Then came a surprising $5,000 from a bidder in France, and then a higher bid from Germany. The bidding war went from $80,000 to $450,000, then finally ended at $1.1 million (including buyerâ€™s premium). The boys didnâ€™t get the news for a few days because it was a Jewish holiday and they didnâ€™t answer the phone.
The picture is a small version, dated 1889, of one that Riviere exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1888 (Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney). Another small version, also dated 1889, was sold at Sotheby’s Belgravia on 16 November 1976, lot 80 (illustrated in catalogue). The existence of these reduced replicas is no surprise since the original version was immensely popular and praised in almost every review of the RA exhibition. The success of the image was predictable, combining as it does two concepts that held an enormous appeal for the Victorians, canine devotion and medieval chivalry. Riviere had chosen the subject as the inheritor of the mantle of Sir Edwin Landseer, specialising in animal subjects with a strong element of anthropomorphism. In fact Landseer had already treated it in a different context in his famous painting The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner, exhibited at the RA in 1837 (Sheepshanks Collection, Victoria and Albert Museum). In both pictures the body of a departed master is mourned by a faithful dog almost visibly shedding tears of grief. As Robert Rosenblum puts it, ‘If only, the message reads, human beings, in this or any other age, could be counted on for such selfless and prayerful devotion!’. But a dramatic change has also occurred. The lonely and indigent crofter who lies in the coffin in Landseer’s picture is replaced by a fallen medieval hero in full armour, while the crofter’s working collie becomes a noble and all too soulful bloodhound. The result is not only to push the image a long way up the social scale but to substitute for the true pathos of the Landseer (analysed at length and warmly commended by Ruskin in Modern Painters ) a dose of heady but rather obvious romance. In fact, come to think of it, it is surprising that Landseer himself did not paint Riviere’s subject; he was quite capable of doing so, and it was perfectly tailored to his talents. We might say he missed a trick, leaving a gap which the younger artist had no hesitation in filling. The recumbent knight lies so stiffly on his catafalque that he resembles the carved effigy of a knight on a medieval tomb. It is almost as if the dog on which such figures often rest their feet has jumped down to become ‘the fallen hero’s chief mourner’