With New York's Old Masters Week well underway, Christie's Renaissance auction was highlighted yesterday (January 30) by the sale of Fra Bartolommeo's Madonna and Child, which sold as top lot.
The piece, first brought to light in 1992 by Bartolommeo scholar Chris Fischer, sold for $12.9m, a world record for the artist. It was expected to provide one of the auction's lead lots from the outset, having been given a $10-15m estimate.
The piece is a fantastic representation of Bartolommeo's early work and an important addition to his oeuvre. It was painted circa the mid-1490s and compares to two early drawings from the artist that are currently housed in the Louvre.
According to Christie's, the painting's subject, the Madonna and Child, accounted for a large part of Bartolommeo's income as an artist during his career, and therefore the piece provides a great insight into a life about which we know very little.
Later in the 1490s, Bartolommeo would be heavily influenced by Leonardo da Vinci, who had visited Florence before departing for Milan. Here, he developed a greater understanding of light and tonal techniques as well as important methods of modelling figures.
Another Madonna and child-themed piece brought the sale's second highest bids, and another artist world record, selling at $10.4m. Known as The Rockefeller Madonna, the artwork was created by Sandro Botticelli - the artist behind The Birth of Venus - in the early 1490s and was once part of the collection of John D Rockefeller.
Among the first sales in Old Masters Week was a fantastic JMW Turner watercolour, which sold with a 2,700% increase on estimate for $42,000. The estate of Giancarlo Baroni has also been sold, starring an Eva Gonzales portrait that brought $2.5m against a $600,000 high estimate.
As these results show, the old masters market is particularly strong at the moment, having seen a 6.5% increase in value in 2012, according to the Mei Moses art index.
Be sure to visit Paul Fraser Collectibles' Art & Photography news section shortly for more of the results from Old Master Week.