Misidentified Painting Sold for $40K Could Now Fetch $8M

Sotheby's to sell original work by old master Peter Paul Rubens, featuring St. Sebastian
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 20, 2023 11:08 AM CDT
Misidentified Painting Sold for $40K Could Now Fetch $8M
Peter Paul Rubens' "Saint Sebastian Tended By Two Angels."   (Sotheby's)

A painting that sold at auction for $40,000 in 2008 is expected to fetch at least $5 million when it goes under the hammer next month—and you can't entirely blame inflation. Last time around, St. Sebastian Tended by Two Angels was attributed to the French Baroque painter Laurent de la Hyre. In the years since, however, experts have identified the painting—depicting the Roman soldier "pierced by soldiers' arrows and left to die after he converted to Christianity, before angels miraculously intervene," per CNN—as a work of Peter Paul Rubens, the celebrated old master of Flemish Baroque painting. What's more, the work is believed to be the original model on which another of Rubens' major works, previously thought to be unique, is based, Artnet reports.

After the painting was sold in 2008, experts matched it to one referenced in documents related to the Spinolas, a noble Genovese family whose members were patrons and friends of Rubens. It's now believed that the military commander Ambrogio Spinola, whom Rubens painted several times, commissioned the work in the first decade of the 17th century. "Ambrogio Spinola was ... a solider fighting a war of religion. He was a devout Catholic and that's why you have this choice of saint," George Gordon of Sotheby's tells CNN. First mentioned in 1655 in the will of Ambrogio's son, the painting can be traced through the family up until 1731, after which it passed to Ambrogio's granddaughter's matriline. It resurfaced in Missouri in 1963, but the attribution to Rubens was lost.

It was confirmed in April with an X-ray analysis, which also showed the work to be the original version of Rubens' St. Sebastian Healed by Angels, held at Rome's Galleria Corsini. The painter had initially depicted St. Sebastian facing the opposite direction with an arrow piercing his right thigh. There was also something scraped away from a corner of the painting before armor was added, per Artnet. As an X-ray analysis showed no major alterations to St. Sebastian Healed by Angels during its creation, experts conclude Rubens had already perfected his design through St. Sebastian Tended by Two Angels. The painting is expected to fetch between $5 million and $7.7 million when it appears at a Sotheby's auction next month. (More Peter Paul Rubens stories.)

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