A painting by the renowned Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens that was lost to history and misidentified for almost 300 years has re-emerged with the help of X-ray analysis and could now fetch up to $7.7 million at auction next month.
The painting, titled “Saint Sebastian Tended by Two Angels”, depicts the story of the Roman soldier Sebastian, who was pierced by soldiers’ arrows and left to die after he converted to Christianity before angels miraculously intervened. It was completed by Rubens more than 400 years ago, likely commissioned by Italian nobleman and military commander Ambrogio Spinolo, a devout Catholic and a friend of the painter.
The painter disappeared from recorded history in the 1730s as it passed out of the Spinola family name and through the female line of descent until reappeared in Missouri in 1963. It was later acquired by the current owner at an auction in 2008, where it was misidentified as a painting by Laurent de la Hyre, a French artist.
However, X-rays analyses carried out in April revealed that the painting was the work of Rubens and, most importantly, the original version of the composition. Previously, that title had been held by a painting in the Corsini family collection, now hanging in the Galleria Corsini, Rome.
The X-ray analysis also revealed changes beneath the final painting as Rubens sculpted and molded his design to perfection for the first time. Initially, for example, Rubens painted Saint Sebastian facing the other way while he omitted another arrow piercing the saint’s right thing in the painting’s final form.
George Gordon, Sotheby’s co-chairman of old master paintings worldwide, said that the painting left a “forceful impression” on him when he first saw it at an exhibition. “It’s the liveliness of the brushwork”, Gordon told CNN. “So it was easy to appreciate the speed and the vivacity with which it was painted, which seemed to me to speak very strongly for Rubens” own brush”.
Rubens was one of the most famous and greatest painters of the 17th century, and a painter who was really at the forefront of developing the Baroque as an art style. His works are highly sought after by collectors and museums around the world.
The painting will go under the hammer in London on July 5 and is estimated to fetch between $5.1 million and $7.7 million. It is a rare opportunity for art lover to own a rediscovered masterpiece by one of the greatest artists of all time.