The Most Expensive Work Ever to Come to Frieze Masters Is This Magnificent $30 Million Botticelli Portrait

But the buyer of the work will have to jump through some hoops with the Spanish authorities to get it home.

Portrait of Michael Tarchaniota Marullus by Sandro Botticelli at the stand of Trinity Fine Arts in Frieze Masters 2019. Photo by Mark Blower. Courtesy of Mark Blower/Frieze.

An arresting portrait by Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli, thought to be the last in private hands, is turning heads at Frieze Masters.

The painting of Michael Tarchaniota Marullus, a 15th-century humanist scholar, is the only work in the booth of the London-based gallery Trinity Fine Arts—and it’s also the priciest ever to show up at Frieze Masters, with a whopping price tag of $30 million.

Dealer Carlo Orsi says it’s a fair price for the resplendent picture, given the quality and rarity of the work. “In the market, it’s very difficult to price this kind of painting, but to compare with the last Leonardo, which went for $450 million, it could be a reasonable price,” Orsi says.

But whoever ends up buying the painting will have to jump through some hoops to get it home. “It is a good price because we have some problems with the Spanish authorities,” Orsi says. 

The work, which is technically claimed by Spain as part of the country’s cultural heritage, required a temporary exit license from the culture ministry before it could be brought to London.

Last year, the owners of the work (which was included in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2011 exhibition, “The Renaissance Portrait: From Donatello to Bellini”) tried to get it to Frieze New York. But the Spanish government denied their request, saying the proper conservation and security conditions had not been met, according to the Spanish paper El País. The owners were finally granted the temporary export license in October last year, after they worked with Orsi to get the deal done.

If it sells, it still needs to come back to Spain. If the new owner is not based in the country, he or she will have to apply for a separate export license. Either way, the work must be returned to the country before October 15, and Spanish authorities will have two months to make a counter-offer should it find a buyer at Frieze.

But Orsi is not worried. Works by the Renaissance master rarely come to market, and the dealer says another great advantage is that Marullo, the sitter in the portrait, was famously a member of the Medici court, which cements the work’s place in history. (Marullo was married to the poet Alessandra Scala, who is believed to have commissioned the work after Marullo died in 1500.)

Orsi says the work was brought to London because “it’s the center of the art market,” and that there would be particular interest at Frieze because of the broader collecting tastes of buyers, who are not interested only in Modern and contemporary art.

In the early hours of the fair, Orsi said he already had interest from US and South Asian buyers, but no firm agreements had been made. The Spanish media is also reporting interest from the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya after the local culture counselor mentioned the painting in a tweet. But it is unlikely that an already pressed culture budget will be able to meet the hefty price tag.

The painting, formerly owned by European royalty, has been one of the jewels in the collection of the family of the late Catalan politician Francesc Cambó for the past century. It has been on loan to the Prado Museum in Madrid for the past two decades. 

The current auction record for a work by Botticelli is $10.4 million, achieved at Christie’s New York in 2013 according to the artnet Price Database.

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