Lot 27
  • 27

Sandro Botticelli

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
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  • Sandro Botticelli
  • Study for a seated St Joseph, his head resting on his right hand
  • Pen and brown ink heightened with white over black chalk, on beige-pink washed paper. Squared in black chalk for transfer;
    bears attribution in pencil at the bottom: Giotto


George Le Hunte of Artramont, County Wexford,
thence by descent to the Misses M. H., L. E. and M. D. Le Hunte,
their sale and others, London, Sotheby's, 9 June 1955, lot 45 (as Workshop of Sandro Botticelli, purchased by Hewett, £ 300);
Miss A.J. Martin;
sale, London, Sotheby's, 26 June 1957, lot 10 (as Workshop of Sandro Botticelli, purchased by Tooth, £ 290);
with William Schab Gallery, New York, Master Drawings and Prints, 1960;  
Benjamin Sonnenberg, his sale New York, Sotheby's, 5-9 June 1979, lot 125 (as Circle of Botticelli, $26,000);
sale, New York, Sotheby's, 13 January 1988, lot 88 ($ 80,000);
Barbara Piasecka Johnson


Poughkeepsie, New York, Vassar College Art Gallery, and New York, Wildenstein and Co., Centennial Loan Exhibition, 1961, no.  2, reproduced;
Warsaw, The Royal Castle, Opus Sacrum from the Collection of Barbara Piasecka Johnson, 1990, pp. 94-97, note 14 (entry by K. Oberhuber), reproduced p. 95;
Warsaw, The Royal Castle, The Masters of Drawing, Drawings from the Barbara Piasecka Johnson Collection, 2010-11, pp. 38-39, reproduced p. 39


R. Lightbown, Sandro Botticelli, Life and Works, London 1978, vol. II, p. 138, under no. C42;
The Faringdon Collection, Buscot Park, 1990, p. 47, under no. 47;
Buscot Park, The Faringdon Collection, 2004, p. 63, under no. 47


SANDRO BOTTICELLI Study for a seated St Joseph, his head resting on his right hand Brown ink and white bodycolour on a buff ground Support This drawing is on a laid type paper of the period, which is fully adhered to another sheet of later paper of the same type. There is a very small edge loss to the foot to the left and a small stain upper left towards the corner. Otherwise the condition is good. Medium The condition of the medium is good but there is general rubbing to the white pigment with some losses. The ground is a little rubbed, particularly on the right side and there are some slight surface abrasions in places with a few losses to the pigment. On the lower corners there is some rubbing to the paper with some ink loss on the shoe on the right and also on the left ink lines. A small ink splash shows on the lower part of the cape. Sold mounted and framed in a old 16th or ealy 17th century Italian frame.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

A very rare late drawing by Sandro Botticelli, the present sheet is closely related to the figure of St. Joseph to the left of The Nativity with adoring St John the Baptist, at Buscot Park (fig. 1), a tondo now believed to be a substantially autograph work by the artist, dating from the late 1480s.  It seems to be the only surviving drawing by Botticelli that can be clearly linked with one of his paintings, and is also the only study by the artist that remains in private hands.  The drawing, squared for transfer, shows minor but significant differences from the final painted work, especially in the position of the head of St. Joseph, which is higher and slightly tilted to the right.  Moreover, some faint chalk lines, noticeable to the right of St. Joseph's head, indicate a revision in the position of his head, which appears initially to have been drawn leaning forward and turned, looking down towards the Child, an interesting but discarded alternative. 

When the drawing was last sold in 1988 (see Provenance) the attribution to Botticelli was fully endorsed by Philip Pouncey and other scholars, and the study was rightly associated with the graphic style of the late Botticelli, although mistakenly believed to relate to the figure of St. Peter in the artist's painting, The Agony in the Garden, now in the Royal Chapel, Granada (fig. 2).1 

In this remarkable drawing, the strong and firm contours are animated by deep and sculptural folds, executed in pen and ink, suggesting St. Joseph's seated pose and his abundant garments.  The figure retains a strongly Gothic flavour and rhythm in its essential elegance and fluency of lines.  The severity and solidity of the image is softened by the intricacy of the folds, and it is also lightened by the very dynamic and skilfully applied white heightening.  The latter contrasts strikingly with the black chalk underdrawing, and with the parallel pen lines in the upper part of St. Joseph's body and sleeves, used most effectively to emphasize areas of shadow, which correspond closely with those seen in the Buscot Park painting.  The use of abundant parallel lines is also noticeable in Botticelli's late allegorical figure of Faith, now in the British Museum, London, datable to circa 1490-1500.2    A further stylistic comparison can be made with another late study for a kneeling male figure, executed in the same media as the present sheet, now in the Ambrosiana.3  The subject of the Ambrosiana sheet was rightly identified by Berenson as St Thomas receiving the Virgin's girdle, and associated with the Botticellesque engraving of The Assumption of the Virgin, of circa 1495.4  

Botticelli has here washed the paper in a beige-pink colour, leaving this grounding slightly unfinished to the right edge of the sheet.  He possibly felt no need to complete the preparation which seems to be applied solely to enhance the coloristic effects achieved by the combination of other media that the artist has employed.  This is most certainly a working drawing, but is also the type of record-drawing that the workshop of Botticelli would have used over and over again, also with some slight variations.  The practice of creating a graphic archive, often preserved in albums or ‘pattern books,’ was common in the botteghe of the 15th century.   It was not only a way to preserve and disseminate the master's style, but also a practical way to speed up the process when looking for motifs to incorporate in some newly-created composition.  Such a finished drawing would certainly have been preserved in an album of this type.  

Although this studio practice should have ensured the preservation of Botticelli's drawings, of which, according to Giorgio Vasari’s life of the artist, there were originally a substantial number, today only around a dozen original sheets are known to survive, plus the famous series of ninety-two drawings that Botticelli made around 1480-95 to illustrate Dante's Divina Commedia, drawings that are now divided between the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin, and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.5  Vasari writes: Disegnò Sandro bene e fuor di modo, e tanto, che dopo lui un pezzo s'ingegnarono gli artefici d'avere de' suoi disegni; e noi nel nostro Libro n'abbiamo alcuni che son fatti con molta pratica e giudizio.6

The present sheet seems to be the only drawing that can be directly connected with one of Botticelli's painted compositions, which makes it an extraordinary and important testimonianza of the artist’s working method.  In its restrained style this sheet testifies to the severe influence and profound spiritual crisis which affected Botticelli at the time of Savonarola (1452-98), the Dominican reformer and preacher who ruled the city of Florence in the mid-1490s. 

In addition to being the only drawing by Botticelli in private hands, this is also the only sheet by the master to come to auction since the 19th century.   Yet aside from its rarity, the drawing – dating from the end of the quattrocento – is hugely significant in the way that it enhances and enriches our knowledge of this pivotal Florentine master, Sandro Botticelli, to whom we owe some of the greatest and most celebrated masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance.

1.  R. Lightbown, Sandro Botticelli, Life and Works, London 1978, reproduced vol. I, pl. 50 
2.  inv. no. 1895, 0915.448;  H. Chapman and M. Faietti, Fra Angelico to Leonardo, Italian Renaissance Drawings, exh. cat., London, British Museum, 2010, and Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, 2011, p. 179, no. 38, reproduced
3.  Codice Resta, f.14.bb. 569;  G. Bora, I disegni del Codice Resta, Bologna 1976, 18, p. 14
4.  G. Mandel, L'opera completa del Botticelli, Milan 1978, reproduced p. 117
5.  Lightbown, op. cit., vol. I, pp. 147-151 and Sandro Botticelli, The Drawings for the Dante's Divine Comedy, exhib. cat., London, Royal Academy of Arts, 2000
6.  G. Vasari, Le Vite de più eccellenti pittori scultori ed architettori, ed. G. Milanesi, Florence 1878, vol. III, p. 323