A bust-length portrait of a thorn-crowned Jesus Christ by Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli has sold at Sotheby’s for $45.4 million.
The circa 1500 Man of Sorrows is the second most expensive work by the legendary Italian artist ever sold at auction and was the top lot in Sotheby’s Master Paintings & Sculpture sale on January 27 that brought in $91 million (with buyers' fees).
Christ is wearing a pleated crimson robe in the portrait, his long, auburn hair flowing. Delicate drops of blood from the crown's sharp thorns trickle around his gray eyes and his gaze is both serene and sorrowful. But perhaps the most distinctive feature of the painting, Sotheby's said in the catalog notes, is the halo of angels orbiting his head.
"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," said the auction house.
Sotheby's said that Man of Sorrows is a defining masterpiece from Botticelli's late career. During the late 15th century and early 16th century, as the artist entered the final decade of his life, his faith intensified, and religious portraits replaced the mythological scenes and images of Italian noblemen from his earlier work.
Three phone bidders competed for the painting before it hammered at the final price of $39.3 million, just shy of its expected $40 million. The price handily beat the previous second-highest auction price for the artist's work set for The Rockefeller Madonna, which sold for $10.4 million at Christie’s in 2013. But the reigning champ remains Botticelli's portrait, Young Man Holding a Roundel, which sold at Sotheby's in January 2021 for $92.2 million and is credited with boosting the market for Old Master paintings.
“Botticelli’s Man of Sorrows is one of the most potent, humbling works I have ever encountered. Though seemingly religious, it’s a painting of enormous humanity — a portrait of human suffering and spirituality that speaks a universal language," Christopher Apostle, the head of Sotheby’s Old Masters painting department, said in a statement after the sale. "Today’s result is not only testament to its power and importance, but also to the timelessness of works painted some 500 years ago.”
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