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Painting by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo to headline Sotheby's Master Paintings Evening Sale
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Madonna of The Rosary with Angels. Signed and dated on the pedestal: JOA. BATTA: TIEPOLVZ.F. / ...1735, oil on canvas, 96¾ by 61½ in.; 246 by 156 cm. Estimate in excess of $15 million. Courtesy Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s announced that one of the greatest works by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo remaining in private hands will be offered as the headline work in their Master Paintings Evening Sale in New York on 29 January 2020. Painted in 1735, The Madonna of the Rosary with Angels is an important early work by the great Venetian artist, dating from a period that is considered one of the artist’s most significant and one that brought him recognition as among the greatest painters of 18th-century Europe. Other Tiepolo altarpieces from this time hang in prominent churches and museums throughout the world, establishing the forthcoming auction as a rarified event. Estimated to achieve in excess of $15 million, the monumental painting is one of the rarest and most significant works by Tiepolo ever to come to market.

The painting is on view in Sotheby’s London from 29 November – 4 December, and on display in their New York galleries beginning 24 January, during Sotheby’s annual Masters Week exhibitions.

Tiepolo is widely regarded as Venice’s foremost artist in the 18th-century, whose decorative and imaginative style not only had a profound and lasting impact on Italian art, but was also a vital precursor to Romanticism and the Belle Époque movements. Major works of such astounding quality by Tiepolo are rare on the international market, for much of his work was carried out in frescoes and altarpieces that remain in situ. The present work last appeared at auction at Sotheby’s in 1989, where it made a record £1.3 million / $2.1 million.

Christopher Apostle, Head of Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings Department in New York, said: “Tiepolo is one of those seminal figures— so imaginative and innovative – to have completely transformed the way we view art. An artist rooted in the tradition of his Venetian predecessors Titian and Veronese, he was at the same time incredibly modern, able to tailor his works to suit the tastes of the time. Proof of his genius is in the painterly ability to express beauty, from highlighting the sensual apparel and fabrics of silk and satin, transforming painted figures into three dimensions, to his bold application of color and treatment of light.”

Signed and dated 1735, the altarpiece is a work of his early maturity, a period in which Tiepolo fused the dramatic composition, grand scale and bold coloring of his Italian Renaissance paintings with the fantastical, theatrical elements of the Grand Manner. In the present altarpiece, the Virgin holds a rosary in her outstretched left hand as if offering the beads to a devotee, and she wears the less typical red cloak that associated her with royalty, as well as the roses that each prayer in the rosary symbolizes. The gold brocade hanging behind the Madonna recalls early Venetian masters like Giovanni Bellini, and the attendant angel kneeling in the left foreground echoes the placement of similar figures in the works of Mannerist painters Correggio and Parmigianino. The overall emotion and grandiosity of the Venetian masters Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese is evident in Tiepolo's works from the 1730s, and paying homage to these artists was likely encouraged by his patrons. Further, the work bears stylistic similarities with the artist’s Adoration of the Christ Child, which is presently displayed in St. Mark’s, Venice. Both paintings are boldly composed and colored and demonstrate Tiepolo’s theatrical flair.

Despite the artist’s prominent signature and date, as well as the monumental size of the canvas, the original location of the altar where the painting resided has yet to be determined. It was most likely commissioned for a Dominican church, which was the order that is most closely associated with promulgating the Rosary throughout Europe. Tiepolo would have been aware of the popular devotional practice, as it enjoyed renewed emphasis during the papacy of the Dominican Pope Benedict XIII (1724 –30).

Prior to 1735, Tiepolo had received no major commissions for church altarpieces in Venice, the demand for such work there in the 1730s having slackened considerably. Instead, it may have been produced for some ecclesiastical site in or near Udine, where Tiepolo was employed at the time.

By the early nineteenth century, Tiepolo’s altarpiece had made its way to England, and the first documented owner of the painting was John Webb, Esq., who amassed an impressive collection of Old Masters, including works by Raphael, Giulio Romano, Caravaggio, David, Greuze, Rembrandt, and Velazquez. The next owner of the illustrious altarpiece was Hugh Andrew Johnstone Munro, called Munro of Novar, a close friend and patron of J.M.W. Turner who also owned Tiepolo's Martyrdom of St. Agatha (circa 1755), now in Berlin's Gemäldegalerie. Both works by Tiepolo were sold by Munro's heirs in 1878 and purchased by Galerie Sedelmeyer, and both later entered the collection of Sir Joseph Robinson, South African gold and diamond magnate and politician. Robinson purchased Dudley House in London in 1894 and began collecting to fill his 80-foot picture gallery. At the age of eighty-five, in 1923, he took the decision to sell his collection at Christie’s. However, upon arriving at the auction rooms the night before, wheelchair-bound, in order to say a final goodbye to his beloved pictures, he fell in love with them all over again and proceeded to apply prohibitively high reserves on the lots so that, in the end, just twelve of the one hundred and sixteen lots found buyers, and the remainder, including the present Tiepolo, returned to store. The Tiepolo and much of the collection passed to Robinson's daughter, Ida Louise, who married Conte Natale Labia, Italian ambassador to South Africa (d. 1936), and remained in the family until their two sons sold some of the paintings, including this one, at Sotheby’s in 1989.

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