A painting of Narcissus gazing at his reflection by the 17th-century Dutch artist Dirck Van Baburen. Photo by Evan Joseph.

NEW YORK - On an early evening in downtown New York, cognoscenti of the art and fashion worlds gathered in one of the Puck Building’s sleek, newly renovated penthouses for Master Paintings Reframed, a pop-up exhibition/show house that juxtaposed centuries-old paintings with luxe contemporary design. The show included highlights from Sotheby’s June sale of Master Paintings, ranging from Renaissance allegories to 18th-century French still lifes. In the window-lined aerie, the pictures complemented edgier elements like a hammered-brass console and angular seating. “Part of the idea was to show how great these paintings look in a contemporary setting,” explains Christopher Apostle, head of Sotheby’s Master Paintings department. The message was clear: these aren’t your grandfather’s Old Masters.

And the aesthetic made an impression on the young crowd in attendance. “The contrast is really great,” commented Liz Margulies, who, as the daughter of the Miami-based megacollector Marty Margulies, grew up surrounded by contemporary creations. “We go to Frieze, but we wouldn’t pick up an Old Master catalogue,” says creative director Kym Canter of her fashion-industry friends’ buying habits. “But this looks cool. This is how trends begin.”

Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem’s The Unequal Lovers. Photo by Evan Joseph.

The apartment itself is a mix of old and new. Atop the landmark Puck Building, so named for its original publisher tenant and glinting statues of the Shakespearean character that adorn its Romanesque façade, the Puck Penthouses, which are being offered by Sotheby’s International Realty, are a skilful blend of the historic and the cutting edge.

“The aim was to create a very high-end residence, a Park Avenue-type apartment downtown,” explains Jose L. Ramirez, the project’s interior architect. Ramirez left intact the original vaulted brick ceiling and cast-iron columns while weaving in luxurious finishes like hand-matched, open-book marble panels. “We wanted to get the best mix of both sides of that spectrum and bring them together in a cohesive whole.”

In an elegant Puck Penthouse, Master Paintings such as Antonio Joli’s view of 18th-century Rome and Lucas Cranach the Elder’s La Bocca Della Verità were installed with contemporary design objects. Photo by Evan Joseph.

More and more, says Apostle, clients are choosing to hang their Canalettos and van Ruysdaels in nontraditional ways, and he’s fielding growing interest from contemporary collectors, who are getting wise to the Renaissance roots of some of their favourite artists, from Cindy Sherman to George Condo. Perhaps the best endorsement for era mixing, however, comes from artists themselves. The anthropomorphic Allegory of Winter by a follower of the 16th-century Italian artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo came from the collection of artist Richard Prince. Says Apostle, “The truism of the best art, from the Old Master period up to things that are still in the studios of Williamsburg today, is that the really good stuff touches us, and continues to.”

A contributing editor of Art + Auction, Sarah P. Hanson writes on art and culture for a variety of publications.

The Puck Penthouses A collection of six custom homes in Manhattan’s SoHo neighbourhood. Offered exclusively by Sotheby’s International Realty from $22 million to $66 million. Nikki Field +1 212 606 7669
nikki.field@sothebyshomes.com | puckpenthouses.com