Four bidders battled for one of Renaissance master Raphael’s greatest drawings at Sotheby’s sale of ‘Old Master & British Paintings’ in London on Wednesday. The 16th century “Head of an Apostle”, a 15-by-11 inch chalk study for Raphael’s last painting “Transfiguration” sold for £29.7 million ($47.9 million), doubling its low estimate of about $24 million, thus set a record price for any drawing in art history.
Rare Raphael’s chalk drawing went on a mini-world tour prior to the London auction in a bid to drum up interest from Asia as well as Europe and North America. It was part of a private collection held at Chatsworth House, home of the 12th Duke of Devonshire who is also deputy chairman of Sotheby’s.
When the artist died in 1520, his body was laid out in state in his studio with the Transfiguration hanging at his head.
“If you are lucky, at some point in your career a work like this comes along,” said Gregory Rubinstein, head of old master drawings at Sotheby’s. “A number of the world’s greatest collectors stepped up tonight in recognition of the genius of Raphael and the extraordinary beauty of this drawing, with its exceptional provenance.”
Only two other Raphael drawings of the same calibre have been auctioned in the last 50 years. This Apostle drawing narrowly beat out the previous record price for a Raphael, set in 2009 when his “Head of a Muse” sold to financier Leon Black for £29,161,250 million (then reportedly $47,941,095) at Christie’s in London.
Sotheby’s Old Master sale fetched a total of £58.1 million with fees from 51 lots, with 74.5 percent selling. Christie’s had a harder time the night before with 54 lots that raised £11.6 million with fees, and 46 percent of lots passing.