A Michelangelo Drawing Just Sold at Christie’s for $21 Million, the Highest Price Ever Paid for a Work by the Old Master at Auction

The drawing was rediscovered in 2019.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, A nude young man (after Masaccio) surrounded by two figures. Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd. 2022.
Michelangelo Buonarroti, A nude young man (after Masaccio) surrounded by two figures. Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd. 2022.

A recently discovered drawing by Michelangelo fetched a hammer price of €20 million ($21 million) today at Christie’s Old Masters and 19th-century art sale in Paris. Though the sum falls short of the approximate estimate of €30 million, it still sets a new record for the priciest work ever sold by the artist at auction. The sketch has also become the most expensive work on paper sold in Europe, and the third highest for an Old Master drawing ever. 

The work was last on the market in 1907 but was then attributed to the school of Michelangelo rather than the Old Master himself. Kept in a private French collection, the work evaded further study by scholars until 2019, when it was attributed to Michelangelo by Christie’s specialist and museum curator Furio Rinaldi. The designation has since been backed up by the art historian Paul Joannides. 

Thought to have been executed in 1596, A nude man (after Masaccio) and two figures behind him has been dubbed the Michelangelo’s “first nude.” The central figure is a copy of the shivering man from Masaccio’s Baptism of the Neophytes in the Brancacci Chapel at the Santa Maria del Carmine church in Florence.

Similar studies by Michelangelo can be found in major museum collections, including another after Masaccio at the Albertina in Vienna and one after Giotto at the Louvre. Declaring the work a national treasure, the French government waited 30 months to grant it an export license, barring one previous attempt to sell the work on the international market. 

Head of the Old Masters department at Christie’s, Stijn Alsteens, said in a statement: “The outstanding price [this drawing] has achieved today is a testament to the enduring admiration for one of the greatest artists of all time, and to the strength of the art market, in particular for masterpieces of this caliber.”

 


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