Early Titian Painting Sells at Auction for a Record-Breaking $22 Million

Rest on the Flight to Egypt by Titian

“Rest on the Flight Into Egypt” by Titian. c. 1510 (Photo: via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Renaissance master Titian is one of the greatest proponents of classical Venetian painting. Known for his expressive use of color, his career spanned most of the 16th century and his work was celebrated by royalty across Europe. His reputation in art history circles has never waned, as a recent early work sold at auction proves.

On July 2, The Rest on the Flight to Egypt sold for $22 million at Christie's. This sets a new auction record for the artist. Painted when Titian was in his late teens or early 20s, it was one of his last early works in a private collection prior to the auction.

The Biblical scene from the Gospel of Matthew was a common subject for painters in the Renaissance. In the oil painting, we see Mary and the baby Jesus embracing as Joseph watches over them during a short pause on their long journey to Egypt.

The intimate familial scene gives a beautiful glimpse of Titian's future artistic development. In the background, we see the pastoral landscape that was a hallmark of his work. Mary's clothing, rendered in a pinkish-red hue, previews the palette he would frequently use. This contrasts with her ultramarine blue mantle and Joseph's bright yellow clothing.

The painting is strong all on its own but becomes all the more intriguing after discovering what happened to it long after Titian's death. The piece was stolen not once but twice during its lifetime. The first time occurred when it was in the expansive Italian art collection of Austria's Archduke Leopold Wilhelm. When Napoleon's troops occupied Vienna in 1809, they looted the collection and took the painting to Paris. It was later returned in 1815 after the fall of Napoleon.

The second theft occurred much more recently, in 1995, when it was snatched from Longleat House in England. The painting ended up there after John Alexander Thynne, 4th Marquess of Bath, purchased it from Christie's in 1878. It remained missing for seven years until it mysteriously showed up in a bag at a bus stop in London and was then returned to Longleat.

As it changes hands once again, The Rest on the Flight to Egypt proves Titian's incredible staying power.

“This result is a tribute to the impeccable provenance and quiet beauty of this sublime early masterpiece by Titian, which is one of the most poetic products of the artist’s youth,” says Orlando Rock, chairman of Christie’s UK. “This picture has captured the imaginations of audiences for more than half a millennia and will no doubt continue to do so.”

An early painting by Titian, which was stolen twice, has sold at auction for $22 million.

"Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in his gallery in Brussels" by David Teniers the Younger

“Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in his gallery in Brussels” by David Teniers the Younger. c. 1647–1651. (Photo: via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

h/t: [Washington Post]

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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