A forgotten Old Master re-emerges at Sotheby’s
Batoni’s Susanna and the Elder, not seen in the public for more than 40 years, comes to auction
By Charlotte Burns. Web only
Published online: 03 December 2012
Sotheby’s is leading its Old Master sale in New York on 31 January with a large-scale painting by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni, Susanna and the Elders, 1751 (est $6m-$9m). Though his work has received sparse attention in recent decades, Batoni was at the time one of the most celebrated painters in Rome. This painting was commissioned by Count Ernst Guido von Harrach of Vienna, and remained in the family’s collection for 250 years. The family consigned it to auction in 1991, where it was bought-in but subsequently acquired by the current owner in a private sale the following year. The work, which measures 99cm x 136cm, has not been seen in public for more than 40 years.
Batoni captures the terror on Susanna’s face as she desperately tries to cover her naked flesh after she is caught bathing in her garden by two leering elders, who threaten to accuse her of infidelity unless she has sex with them. “Susanna and the Elders clearly shows not only an awareness of the great Baroque painters of a century before, but even of Raphael himself, particularly in the perfection of the figure of the heroine herself. Batoni was very much competing with these earlier artists and in this painting, very much saying that he was their equal,” says Christopher Apostle, Sotheby’s senior vice president and the head of the Old Master paintings department. “The figure of Susanna is beautifully rendered, demur in her nudity and innocence. The figures of the Elders—one venal, offering her money, the other lustful and violent as he leaps over the stone bench—are remarkably and dynamically posed. It is, in short, a masterpiece by the artist, and one of the very few of these types of subject pictures by him to have come on the market in many years.”
Sotheby’s is also selling works from the estate of the Old Master dealer and collector Giancarlo Baroni (29 and 30 January), including an early El Greco panel, The Entombment of Christ, around mid-1570s (est $1m-$1.5m).
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