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Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings by Old Masters

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The auction held by the Sotheby’s auction house on 28 January 2021 made serious changes to the list of the world’s most expensive paintings by the Old Masters. The Portrait of a Man with a Medal by Sandro Botticelli, which was sold for 92.2 million USD, immediately took the third line in the top 10 of such works and set a record among the works by the artist. The pre-sale campaign has sparked interest in the Old Masters market, which has faded over the past few years.
Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings by Old Masters
Today, auctions are dominated by works by Pablo Picasso, Gerhard Richter, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol and many other contemporary artists. But it was not always the case. Two decades earlier, sensations appeared around the names of the painters who had worked in the 14—18th centuries. The desire to possess works of art of this quality, status and with such a rich history has made many collectors to pay tens of millions. Purchases of paintings by such giants as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Rembrandt and Peter Paul Rubens became the main news topics.
The Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo (1658) by Rembrandt left the world top 10 most expensive pain
The Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo (1658) by Rembrandt left the world top 10 most expensive paintings by old artists. In December 2009, the canvas was bought for $ 33.2 million
The term "Old Masters" refers to a broad category of artists. It originates from the guilds that have ruled the European art industry since the urban expansion of the Middle Ages. Each profession, such as leatherworkers or goldsmiths, had its own guild, which regulated trade, market competition, and quality. Often, in order to work in the city, it was necessary to be a member of such an alliance. Recognized artisans, members of the guilds, adhered to strict standards and were expected to perform well.
Here follows the top 10 Old Masters paintings purchased by collectors and museums for the largest amounts in history.

10. Francesco Guardi. Venice. The Rialto Bridge From the North (1760s)

Cost: £ 26.7 m ($ 43 m)
Auction: Sotheby’s, 2011
This monumental landscape
The development of the genre from antiquity to the present day: how did religion and the invention of oil painting contribute to the development of the genre in Europe, and why was the Hudson River so important? Read more
masterfully conveys the atmosphere of 18th century Venice. It can be called the most characteristic work of the mature period of one of the last representatives of the classical Venetian school of painting. Francesco Guardi signed the painting, which indicates the importance he attached to it.

The first owner of the painting was a young Englishman Chaloner Arcedeckne. In 1768, he embarked on a grand European tour, a must-see for an offspring of aristocratic and wealthy British families. The next owner was Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Ivory, CEO and then head of the Guinness Brewing Company. The masterpiece was inherited in his family until 2011, when it was put up for auction. The British government tried to leave the painting in the country, but it failed.

9. William Turner, Modern Rome — Campo Vaccino (1839)

Cost: £ 29.7 m ($ 44.9 m)
Auction: Sotheby’s, 2010
In 2010, William Turner's painting, Modern Rome — Campo Vaccino, was sold at Sotheby’s auction for £ 29.7 million. This is the second largest amount paid in the auction for the work of a British artist. The winner was dealer Hazlitt, Gonomous & Fox, who applied on behalf of the Los Angeles Getty Museum, where the landscape
The development of the genre from antiquity to the present day: how did religion and the invention of oil painting contribute to the development of the genre in Europe, and why was the Hudson River so important? Read more
is now.

The veduta, formerly part of the collection of the Rothschild family, portrays the Eternal City through the veil of Turner’s memory and demonstrates the enduring grandeur of Rome, which has been not a spot in the real world, but a place in the imagination for artists throughout history, as it is described on the Getty website. Prior to its sale at Sotheby’s, the canvas appeared at auction only once in its history.

8. William Turner. Rome, From Mount Aventine (1836)

Cost: £ 30.3 m ($ 47.6 m)
Auction: Sotheby’s, 2014
Rome, From Mount Aventine refers to the late period, which is considered the heyday of Turner’s work. Most of his works of those years are now included in the collections of the world’s largest museums, and only six works of such importance and quality are still in private collections. In 2014, the landscape
The development of the genre from antiquity to the present day: how did religion and the invention of oil painting contribute to the development of the genre in Europe, and why was the Hudson River so important? Read more
set a record at Sotheby’s auction and put the iconic British painter in the row of three pre-Impressionist artists (along with Rubens and Raphael) whose work was so highly acclaimed. The view was originally painted for a friend of the artist, publisher John Pye.

7. Raphael, Head of a Young Apostle (c. 1519—1521)

Cost: £ 29.7 m ($ 47.8 m)
Auction: Sotheby’s, 2012

In December 2012, at London Sotheby’s, this elaborate and extremely powerful study
A study is an exercise painting that helps the painter better understand the object he or she paints. It is simple and clear, like sample letters in a school student’s copybook. Rough and ready, not detailed, with every stroke being to the point, a study is a proven method of touching the world and making a catalogue of it. However, in art history, the status of the study is vague and open to interpretation. Despite its auxiliary role, a study is sometimes viewed as something far more significant than the finished piece. Then, within an impressive frame, it is placed on a museum wall.
So, when does a study remain a mere drill, and when can we call it an artwork in its own right, full of life and having artistic value? Read more
by the Renaissance
The Renaissance is the period that began around the 14th century and ended at the late 16th century, traditionally associated primarily with the Italian region. The ideas and images of the Renaissance largely determined the aesthetic ideals of modern man, his sense of harmony, measure and beauty. Read more
Colossus was sold for $ 47.8 million. Four bidders fought for it for 17 minutes, tripling the pre-sale estimate. The drawing set the record for the artist’s work ever appearing at open auction. For the past three centuries, the sketch
A study is an exercise painting that helps the painter better understand the object he or she paints. It is simple and clear, like sample letters in a school student’s copybook. Rough and ready, not detailed, with every stroke being to the point, a study is a proven method of touching the world and making a catalogue of it. However, in art history, the status of the study is vague and open to interpretation. Despite its auxiliary role, a study is sometimes viewed as something far more significant than the finished piece. Then, within an impressive frame, it is placed on a museum wall.
So, when does a study remain a mere drill, and when can we call it an artwork in its own right, full of life and having artistic value? Read more
has been kept in the Devonshire Collections in England.
He gives a clear idea of the level of Raphael’s skill as a draughtsman. Here you can see the amazing technical originality and virtuoso chalk work in the process of exploring the subtlest nuances of volume and lighting. It was a sketch for the artist’s last painting, the Transfiguration scene, now kept in the Vatican Museums.
Raphael Sanzio. Transformation
Transformation
1520, 405×278 cm

6. Raphael, Head of a Muse (c. 1510)

Cost: £ 29.1 m ($ 48 m).
Auction: Christie’s, 2009
Raphael. Study of the head of the muse Polyhymnia in the Parnassus fresco (c. 1510). Private collect

Raphael. Study of the head of the muse Polyhymnia in the Parnassus fresco (c. 1510). Private collection

At the beginning of the 16th century, Pope Julius II commissioned Raphael to paint the Stanza della Segnatura — the Hall of Decrees in the Papal Palace, where the tribunal’s sessions were held and decrees were signed. Head of a Muse was a preliminary sketch for one of the largest works of the Renaissance, the Parnassus fresco. The painting shows the mythical history of the mountain where the god Apollo lived with nine muses.

The first documented owner of the drawing was the Dutch collector Gosuinus Uilenbroek in 1725. Later, the sheet passed to Sir Thomas Lawrence, painter and renowned collector of old artists' paintings, and then to Willem II, King of the Netherlands. This is the last Raphael’s work related to the Vatican order being in private hands. It was first listed for sale in 2009 at Christie’s, where two bidders raised its price from starting £ 16 million to £ 29 million.

5. Peter Paul Rubens, Lot and His Daughters (c. 1613—1614)

Cost: £ 44.9 m ($ 58.2 m)
Auction: Christie’s, 2016
Lot and His Daughters by Sir Peter Paul Rubens has been included in all major catalogues of the artist’s paintings since the 19th century. But for more than a century, it was hidden from the public in private collections and was only known for its black and white photography. Previously, its owners were large merchants of Antwerp, European royalty and aristocrats, such as the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I and John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough.

At auction in 2016, the illustration for the biblical episode of Lot being seduced by his daughters became the most expensive work by the old artists in the 250-year history of Christie’s. The painting was bought by a charitable foundation, which gave it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on a long-term lease basis.

4. Peter Paul Rubens. The Massacre of the Babies (1611—1612)

Cost: £ 49.5 m ($ 76.5 m)
Auction: Sotheby’s, 2002
At the end of the 17th century, this painting entered the collection of Prince Hans-Adam I of Liechtenstein and was kept by his descendants until the 19th century. For some time it was attributed to Francis de Neve the Younger, then Jan van den Hoecke, one of Rubens’s assistants. In 2001, it was proven to be the work by the baroque
The baroque style replaced the Renaissance, and it sought to shock the soul, in contrast to the Renaissance art, which kept the distance between an artwork and the audience. It surely succeeded: the pictorial pearls of those times are the true treasures. Read more
artist himself. Before the sale in July 2002, Sotheby’s experts estimated it at 4—6 million pounds, but during the auction the cost soared to 49.5 million. The money was given by Canadian businessman and collector Kenneth Thomson. He subsequently donated the painting to the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

3. Sandro Botticelli. Portrait of a Man with a Medal (c. 1480)

Cost: $ 92.2 million
Auction: Sotheby’s, 2021
Sandro Botticelli. Portrait of a Man with a Medal (c. 1480). Private collection

Before the auction,

Sandro Botticelli. Portrait of a Man with a Medal (c. 1480). Private collection

Before the auction, doubts were expressed in the press that the painting had come from under the brush of Botticelli himself. However, they dissipated after an unknown buyer offered his final price over the phone. The head of Sotheby’s Old Masters department Christopher Apostol called all suspicions "a red herring". Art critics were unanimous that this portrait of a long-haired young man embodies the ideals of the Renaissance beauty, and the bright colours and simplicity make it "eternally modern".

In the 1930s, The Man with the Medal was described in the collection of the Lords of Newborough, Wales. Presumably, the painting was bought in the 18th century by the founder of the dynasty, Sir Thomas Wynn, the first baronet of Newborough, when he lived in Tuscany. Apparently, the work hung in the mansion hall, and the owners did not realize how valuable it was — this explains its exceptional condition.

2. Rembrandt van Rijn, paired portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit (1634)

Cost: € 160 m ($ 195 m)
Auction: private sale, 2016
  • Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of Marten Soolmans (1634). Louvre — Rijksmuseum
  • Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of Oopjen Coppit (1634). Louvre — Rijksmuseum
Technically, these two of Rembrandt’s masterpieces do not belong on this list. All the works shown were sold at an open auction, and the wedding portraits of the young merchant and his bride were bought within a private deal. It was signed by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Louvre in Paris with Baron Rothschild, whose ancestor acquired the paintings in 1877.

These images are the only known full-length portraits of Rembrandt. They were painted when the artist himself was 28 years old. Before being sold, the canvases were last shown to the public in the Netherlands in 1956. Now both co-owner museums have promised to exhibit the pair only together.

1. Leonardo da Vinci. Savior of the World (c. 1500)

Cost: $ 450.3 million
Auction: Christie’s, 2016

This work seems to hold the leadership among the most expensive works of art in history yet for many years to come. Apparently, it will become one of the most mysterious paintings in the world. In 2016, at Christie’s auction in New York, it was acquired by an unknown buyer for an incredible price of $ 450 million. Later, the media confidently named the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman as the new owner. However, after the sensational auction, the panel disappeared, giving rise to many rumours, speculations and fantastic theories.
The image of Christ with a translucent ball in his left hand still causes fierce controversy. It was considered a copy for a long time, and was finally attributed to the Renaissance
The Renaissance is the period that began around the 14th century and ended at the late 16th century, traditionally associated primarily with the Italian region. The ideas and images of the Renaissance largely determined the aesthetic ideals of modern man, his sense of harmony, measure and beauty. Read more
genius only after its restoration in 2006. Before the sale, the painting was exhibited in 2011 at the National Gallery in London. But even now, many art critics question her attribution.

Afterword

The above list can be considered conditional due to the presence of the paired portrait by Rembrandt in it. If we take into account private transactions as well as open auctions, two of them should be mentioned.

In 2019, a painting was announced to be put up for auction, which was dubbed Caravaggio from the Attic. The large-scale painting Judith Beheading Holofernes (c. 1607) was found during a clean up in an attic in France and attributed to one of the legendary painters in art history.
Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings by Old Masters
Despite the battle of experts' opinions around the work, the estimate at an open auction in Toulouse was declared $ 170 million. However, at the last minute, news came that billionaire J. Tomilson Hill had bought it. How much he paid remains a mystery.
The second expensive private deal is the purchase of Titian’s Portrait of Alfonso d’Avalos with a Page (1533). In 2003, the image of the general in armour was privately acquired by the Los Angeles Getty Museum for $ 70 million.