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Mantegna double-sided drawing hits the block in Italy

The significant work is unlikely to leave the country, however, if the government places an export bar on it

The drawing features a study for Lamentation of Christ, probably referring to Mantegna’s famous painting of 1480, on one side and a Pietà on the other

A small double-sided drawing by the Renaissance master Andrea Mantegna, hailed as a significant discovery by scholars, sold at auction in Italy this Friday (8 November) for €509,650 ($680,000) including buyer's premium. The work, consigned to the Farsettiarte auction house in Prato, Tuscany, had an estimate of €140,000 to €220,000. A study for Lamentation of Christ features on one side, with a drawing of Pietà on the other; the former probably refers to Mantegna’s famous painting of 1480. Regarding the provenance, an auction spokeswoman says: “We can only say that it comes from a private collection in Italy.”

Mantegna expert David Ekserdjian, the professor of art history and film at the University of Leicester, believes that the double-sided drawing is significant. “There are two keys factors that link the consigned auction work with another double-sided sheet by Mantegna in the Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo [gallery] in Brescia,” he tells The Art Newspaper. “There are red marks on the reverse of the Brescia work where it was almost certainly affixed or stuck down. There are identical red marks on one side of the auction lot.”

Ekserdjian points out that both works are inscribed with a linked number sequence: “31 [V]ol 1 Mantegna” for the auction lot, “37 Vol 1 Mantegna” on the Brescia item. He also highlights parallels between the work due to go under the hammer and a third double-sided drawing by Mantegna in the British Museum in London. “I am sure the sale piece is by the same hand as the Brescia and British Museum works, and that all three are by Mantegna,” he says.

However, Michael Savage writes on his blog The Grumpy Art Historian: “The estimate is oddly wide and oddly low, presumably because it’s subject to Italian export restrictions.” Indeed, the work is unlikely to ever leave the country as the government will probably place an export bar on the drawing, a move that may deter foreign buyers from bidding.

Update: This article was updated on Friday 8 November to include the sale price.

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