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As the top auction houses expand their private sale offerings, a host of top-level Old Master paintings have been added to the roster of available works. Among the standouts on offer via Sotheby’s private sale platform is Valerio Castello’s (1624 – 1659) 17th Century painting, The Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist, with an asking price of £350,000.
The 16th Century work last surfaced in 2009 preceding a Sotheby’s London sale. The Italian painter had a brief life, dying at the peak of his artistic career. Born into a family of artists in Genoa, his formative years were spent in Milan and Parma – the influence of which can be seen in his early era work reminiscent of Italian masters, Correggio and Parmigianino, and later Dutch master Van Dyck. Scholars of Castello’s work believe it’s likely the painting was first commissioned by a French collector based in the South close to the Italian border.
Castello’s Holy Family features a quintessentially baroque scheme host to old world drama and excess. The Madonna centers in a signature diagonal alignment with the young Saint John the Baptist—patron saint of Florence holding a reeded cross. The religious iconography is shared in another painting by Castello, the 1650s Flight Into Egypt, which shows the artist sampling from Italian Renaissance and Flemish masters. He was in his short-but-prolific career also tasked with ambitious fresco painting projects in several of Genoa churches.
The Old Masters sale category has been the recent subject of contemporary remixes with 21st Century luxury-brand partnerships to revitalize the collecting category. In the 2018 $450M Salvador Mundi sale, mystery was the key selling point. Yet, despite an overall decline in public sale results over the past decade, the original old-school category is still among the top sellers through private sale. And as the online viewing pace picks up, rare masterpiece works compete for attention in cross-category virtual collecting.
The painting was last sold in 2009 from the collection of noted 20th Century British pianist, Margaret Hartog who acquired the work in 1959— the work came to a Sotheby’s London Old Masters evening sale and went for £169,250 ($272,149), doubling its low estimate of £80,000. The artist’s current auction record was set back in 1989 in a Sotheby’s evening sale with The Legend of Saint Genevieve of Brabant doubling its low estimate of $500,000 and realizing a total selling price of $1.1M.
2009 was an unexpectedly successful year for the Old Masters category— between London spring sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s the category grossed a total of £53.54 million yielding six new artist records. A decade ago, the auction houses started to expand the category to include a broader range of 19th Century works for the evening sales.