A recently rediscovered Michelangelo drawing, the artist’s first known nude portrait, was auctioned at Christie’s in Paris on Wednesday for 23 million euros ($24 million), a record for one of the Italian artist’s drawings. A late 15th-century sketch in brown pen-and-ink depicting a nude man with two other figures in the background, recently appeared in a French private collection more than a century later. Including the buyer’s premium, the sale price beat the previous Renaissance artist’s record of drawing €9.5 million for “The Risen Christ” at Christie’s in London in 2000, but fell short of the list price of €30 million.
“There are less than 10 Michelangelo drawings that are in private hands,” Helen Rihal, director of antique and 19th-century drawings at Christie’s, told AFP before the auction. The sketch was last offered for sale in 1907 at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris.
The nude portrait, based in part on a fresco by Masaccio in the Brancusi church in Florence, “was able to escape the attention of specialists,” according to Christie, who declared it was well-preserved.
It was only in 2019 that experts determined that it was the work of the genius of the Italian Renaissance (1475-1564) during the inventory of a private French collection.
In September of that year it was declared a “National Treasure of France”, preventing its exit from French soil for 30 months, while giving the French government and museums the opportunity to purchase it.
However, there was no bid and recent weeks have seen the work bid in Hong Kong and New York to attract interest ahead of the auction.
The drawing is the size of an A4 sheet (eight by 12 inches, 21 by 30 cm) and is very similar to a figure in Masaccio’s fresco “The Baptism of New Plants” (1426-1427).
“It’s so much more than just a copy,” Sten Alsteen, a Christie’s Old Masters expert, said on the seller’s website.
“Michelangelo decided to transform the figure into something more compatible with its aesthetics by making it more robust and voluminous, while at the same time preserving the fragility of the figure, which is exposed and shivering” while awaiting baptism, he said.
Alsteens added that the artist may have drawn the drawing at the age of about 21, on the cusp of his high-profile career.
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