Botticelli’s Virgin And Child To Sell For £5 Million

Sotheby’s upcoming Old Masters Sale in London promises an extraordinary selection of rare and historically significant artworks.

Featuring masterpieces by Herri Met de Bles, Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Sandro Botticelli, Bartholomäus Zeitblom, and Canaletto, this auction highlights paintings with exceptional provenance and fascinating histories.

Collectors and art enthusiasts alike will have the opportunity to acquire pieces that exemplify the pinnacle of artistic achievement from the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

Rediscovered Masterpiece by Herri Met de Bles

Herri Met de Bles and Sir Peter Paul Rubens’ painting, The Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist in an Extensive Landscape with Travellers (estimated £600,000-800,000), is a highlight of Sotheby’s upcoming sale.

Sotheby’s Old Masters Sale: Rare Artworks with Rich Provenance
Herri Met De Bles And Sir Peter Paul Rubens, The Holy Family With The Infant Saint John The Baptist In An Extensive Landscape With Travellers, Est 600,000 – 800,000 GBP

This recently rediscovered landscape is a rare and remarkable work by Herri Met de Bles, one of the earliest European landscape painters. It not only belonged to Sir Peter Paul Rubens but was also remodelled by the renowned artist himself.

This painting exemplifies the elements that contributed to Herri Met de Bles’ lasting success while shedding light on Rubens’s creative practice.

Herri Met de Bles, nicknamed Civetta (Little Owl) for his signature owl motif (seen on a cage in the painting), was a celebrated artist of the new landscape painting genre and an early practitioner in the Netherlands. Rubens’ habit of collecting and adapting works by other masters is well-documented.

He often reworked original designs by known or anonymous artists. In this instance, Rubens’ intervention primarily involved the main group of figures, likely originally executed by an anonymous specialist within Met de Bles’ workshop. Met de Bles’s elaborate landscape remains unaltered, showcasing his meticulous underdrawing.

Rubens significantly altered the relationship between the Virgin, Christ Child, and the Infant St John, making their interaction the composition’s central focus. He created a more intimate, tightly-knit composition, drawing attention to the tender exchange between the figures.

Rubens injected dynamism and vitality into the originally static scene, influenced by Italian Renaissance models, particularly Raphael and Titian.

Bartholomäus Zeitblom’s Altarpiece Wings

Another notable piece is Bartholomäus Zeitblom’s The Wings of an Altarpiece: Wilhelm von Schwendi and Barbara Krafft von Dellmensingen (estimated £400,000-600,000). Zeitblom’s serene style is captured in these large, late medieval altarpiece wings depicting the nobleman and his wife, dressed in contemporary black robes with delicate rosary beads.

Sotheby’s Old Masters Sale: Rare Artworks with Rich Provenance
Bartholomäus Zeitblom, The Wings Of An Altarpiece Wilhelm Von Schwendi (D. 1522); Barbara Krafft Von Dellmensingen (D. 1538), Est 400,000 – 600,000 GBP

Painted circa 1500, these panels originally served as the fixed outer wings of a carved and painted altarpiece donated by the kneeling couple to St Anna’s Chapel in Schwendi, near Ulm.

The family of the female donor removed the panels in 1758, and they have since remained in the same lineage. These vibrant panels not only boast an unbroken provenance but are also among the best-preserved donor panels by Zeitblom.

Bartholomäus Zeitblom, born around 1455, moved to Ulm in 1482, where he led one of the most productive workshops during a period marked by high demand for small, carved altarpieces.

Zeitblom enjoyed the patronage of important regional figures, including knight George von Ehingen. Zeitblom’s works are incredibly rare on the market, with most of his commissions originally housed in ecclesiastical buildings. The finest examples are now held in museums.

Sandro Botticelli and Studio’s The Madonna and Child

Sandro Botticelli and his studio’s The Madonna and Child (estimated £3,000,000 – 5,000,000) is another standout lot. This private devotional image, dating to the 1490s, represents a characteristic late work by Botticelli.

Although studio assistants were likely involved in certain areas, technical analysis by the Metropolitan Museum suggests Botticelli himself led the design and execution.

Infrared reflectography revealed extensive underdrawing with great freedom and creativity, indicating Botticelli’s methodical preparation. At the turn of the 20th century, The Madonna and Child belonged to a distinguished banker and philanthropist Alfred de Rothschild, who bequeathed it to his daughter Almina, Countess of Carnarvon.

The painting was sold at auction in 1925, following the Countess’s need to finance Howard Carter’s excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Canaletto’s Venetian Views

A pair of paintings by Canaletto, Venice, The Churches of the Redentore and San Giacomo and The Prisons and the Bridge of Sighs (estimated £2,500,000-3,500,000), are remarkable for their near pristine condition.

These waterfront views showcase Canaletto’s characteristic light tonality and attention to detail. The Redentore composition exists in multiple versions, but the Prisons is a unique representation.

In May 1746, Canaletto moved to London, where he had a well-established reputation. The first owner of these paintings was the Neave Family of Dagnam Park, Essex, who acquired several important works by Canaletto.

These paintings have remained together since then, reflecting Canaletto’s enduring appeal as the leading Venetian view painter.

Sotheby’s Old Masters Sale: Rare Artworks with Rich Provenance
Gaspar Van Wittel, Called Vanvitelli Florence, A View Of The City From The Right Bank Of The River Arno Looking Towards The Ponte Alla Carraia, Est 300,000 – 400,000 GBP

The use of technical analysis, such as X-rays and infrared imaging, has provided deeper insights into the paintings’ compositions and alterations. For instance, X-rays of The Holy Family revealed changes made by Rubens, while infrared imaging of Botticelli’s work showed his meticulous underdrawing.

These analyses not only authenticate the works but also enhance understanding of the artists’ creative processes.

Historical Significance and Collector’s Interest

The historical significance of these paintings, coupled with their exceptional provenance, makes them highly desirable for collectors. The rediscovery of Herri met de Bles’s landscape and its connection to Rubens adds a layer of intrigue.

Similarly, the unbroken lineage of Zeitblom’s altarpiece wings and Botticelli’s connection to the Rothschild family enhance their value.

Experts predict strong interest in these works due to their rarity and historical importance. The market for Old Masters remains robust, with collectors seeking pieces with notable provenance and technical excellence. Sotheby’s sale provides a unique opportunity to acquire works that embody the artistic achievements of their respective periods.


Sotheby’s Old Masters Sale in London is a celebration of art history, featuring works by some of the most influential artists of the past. The rediscovered masterpiece by Herri Met de Bles, the serene altarpiece wings by Zeitblom, the devotional image by Botticelli, and the Venetian views by Canaletto each tell a unique story.

These paintings not only reflect the artistic achievements of their creators but also the historical and cultural contexts in which they were produced. Collectors and art enthusiasts alike will find much to admire and acquire in this remarkable sale.

Images: Sotheby’s

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