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Catalan family hopes to sell one of last Botticellis in private hands

Portrait by Renaissance master owned by Guardans-Cambó family is up for sale at the Frieze Masters art fair in London for 30 million euros

 

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03 October 2019 12:42 PM

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Neil Stokes/Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

One of the highlights of this year's Frieze Masters art fair in London will be a portrait by Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli, which belongs to 14 descendants of one of Catalonia's most important politicians of the early 20th century, Francesc Cambó i Batlle.

Between October 3 and 6, attendees to the fair will be able to admire the portrait of the 15th century Greek scholar, poet and soldier, Michele Marullo (or Michael Marullus Tarchaniota), as London's Trinity Fine Art gallery has dedicated a whole booth to the painting. 

Botticelli painted few portraits, and that is one reason why this painting has attracted so much attention. "A portrait with such a history, where we know who the sitter is, and all the history, is almost unique," Carlo Orsi, the owner of Trinity Fine Art, told Catalan News.

How Cambó's family got in touch with Trinity Fine Art

Orsi explains how Trinity Fine Art ended up with the painting: "I know one of the owners very well, she is a friend of mine. Last year, she asked if I would like to hold the painting and try to sell it. And I said, why not? That was the start of my project for the Boticelli."

The Frieze Masters art fair is better known for showcasing modern art, but Orsi guessed that devoting an entire booth to the Renaissance masterpiece would make the work stand out. If the media attention it has attracted so far is anything to go by, that has proved to be true.

"Many are here for contemporary and modern art, so I'm looking for maybe a Spanish client collecting modern or contemporary art who might fall in love with such an important portrait and maybe give it to a Spanish museum. That would be my dream," said Orsi.

Asset of Cultural Interest

The portrait, one of the last Botticellis in private hands, was declared an Asset of Cultural Interest by the Spanish authorities in 1988, which means that the painting cannot be exported, according to Spain's heritage laws, and needs a licence to leave the country.

  • "She asked if I would like to hold the painting and try to sell it. And I said, why not?"

    Carlo Orsi · Owner of Trinity Fine Art

It is thanks to such a licence that the painting is currently in London, although for it to remain abroad Spain's culture ministry will have to renew the permit. As Orsi points out, "it should go back to Spain by October 15 and then we will apply again for another permit."

The painting, which has been recently on display in the Prado national gallery in Madrid, is dated to about 1500, when Marullo drowned crossing a river during a storm. Art historians believe that the portrait was commissioned by Marullo’s widow after his death.

Over the next 500 years, the painting changed hands many times, and had such illustrious owners as Auguste de Beauharnais, Duke of Leuchtenberg, whose father was the stepson of Napoleon, before ending up in the collection of Czar Nicholas I of Russia's son-in-law.

Francesc Cambó, politician and art collector

Along with a number of Renaissance works, the portrait was eventually acquired by Francesc Cambó i Batlle (1876-1947), a Catalan conservative politician who founded the Lliga Regionalista party, and who served as a minister in different Spanish governments.

Cambó was abroad when the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, and he never returned, continuing to live in exile, in France, Switzerland, the US, and Argentina, where he died in 1947. Yet, his remains returned in 1976 and were buried in the cemetery on Montjuïc.

Cambó, who had built a fortune in business, became an important private art collector and a great cultural patron. He bequeathed his art collection to the Prado and Catalonia's national art gallery, MNAC, except for the Marullo portrait, which remained in his family's hands.

Finding a buyer "takes time"

However, the artwork's long-standing connection with Cambó's descendants, the Guardans-Cambó family, could soon come to an end, if the Trinity Fine Art gallery manages to attract a suitable buyer for the Botticelli masterpiece at the fair.

Orsi's preference is for Spain to acquire the painting and keep it on display in a museum, but he says, "I asked the owner if the Spanish state would be interested in the painting and the answer was 'not right now.' Maybe they will change their minds, you never know."

What the gallery owner confirmed is that the painting is not up for auction, as some media outlets have reported: "I don’t know why somebody said it is in an auction because it's not, I never said it would be in an auction. It was given to me by the family, but for private sale."

There's no way to know whether showing the painting at the Frieze Masters will lead to a purchase, and as Orsi points out, "it takes time, it's not something you can sell in a day or an hour." But Renaissance art collectors with 30 million euros spare know where to look.

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  • Botticelli's painting 'Portrait of Michele Marullo Tarcaniota' in London on October 2, 2019 (by Mark Dalton)

  • Botticelli's painting 'Portrait of Michele Marullo Tarcaniota' in London on October 2, 2019 (by Mark Dalton)

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