The European Fine Art Fair (Tefaf) prides itself on promising the collectors a 7,000-year span of art history throughout its aisles—which leaves room for occasional revelations in some of the stands. Such will be the case in the fair’s upcoming 35th Maastricht edition, where the New York-based gallery Christopher Bishop Fine Art will unveil late Baroque master Sebastiano Ricci’s newly uncovered painting, Diana and Endymion.
Estimated to date from the1720s, the painting depicts the moon and hunting goddess Diana’s encounter with the lifeless body of her mortal lover Endymion in the company of a butterfly-winged Cupid and a curious canine. The 37.8in by 58in painting depicts earthly notions of death, torment and sexuality, while signaling a transitory moment between the era’s artistic movements. The masterpiece coincides with Ricci’s late career, when his fame had expanded from Venice to the UK and France—the Earl of Burlington is believed to be the work’s patron. The Old Master’s translation of the Baroque and Renaissance vocabulary into the 18th century’s impending styles like Rococo and Neo-Classicism is evident in details such as the star-crossed lovers’ contrastingly-coloured wardrobes, the positioning of the female gaze and the overall theatrical composition.
“Ricci was for the all succeeding generations of artists the greatest of inspirations, the principal instigator of the shift in style away from the dark vagueness of the late 15th century towards a more luminous and seductive painting, full of rich and engrossing cultural references,” says art historian Annalisa Scarpa, the author of Ricci’s catalogue raisonné.
From the light’s focus on Diana’s breasts to her somber expression and the hint of arousal conveyed in Endymion’s horn, the codings of autonomy and desire reveal a painter eager to push his era’s boundaries. It was in fact this trait that encouraged dealer Christopher Bishop to bid $200,000 to fetch the painting in a Florida-based auction house’s online sale, which had listed the work as dating from the 19th century.
“I knew from the elements like the thrown-back head of the male figure and the economic narrative structure of the myth that whoever painted this work had studied ancient statues of Endymion,” says Bishop. “The overall portrayal of the subjects with a tension captured through the light was indicative of visual mastery and understanding of layered allegory.”
Another telling sign for the dealer was the original hand-carved wooden frame, which was overlooked in the online auction and fell into Bishop’s hands as an additional bonus. “Nobody in the 19th century would invest in such a crafted Venetian frame for a copy or an unimportant painting,” he added.
Bishop’s sharp eye and risk-taking paid off. After remaining out of the public eye for nearly 200 years, the painting will be offered for a price tag of €1.35mduring the fair’s run at the Maastricht Exhibition and Conference Centre (25-30 June). The Italian heavyweight, however, will not be the only showstopper in the first-time exhibitor’s burgundy-hued stand.
Bishop will also unveil Dutch master Jan Lievens’s 1653-dated drawing of Admiral Maarten, which similarly found the dealer through a Massachusetts-based auctioneer’s online sale with a modest estimate of around $300—though Bishop ended up paying $514,800 for it. The asking price at the fair will be €1.4m, which would be a record for any Lievens work.
“Artists are not only to create icons, but to examine the frailty of human life,” Bishop says about his stand’s star attractions. “In the end, these two works are glimpses in time, shining mirrors of our reality today.”