But that changed when she entered the bedroom. Hanging above the bed was a superb painting of the Virgin and Child. Tyrrell, who has over 25 years of experience in his field, guessed it was around the 16th century.
The owner of the house, a 90-year-old woman, had left Italy when she was young. When her father died, she inherited the painting, according to a statement from the auction room. It had been in his possession for over 30 years.
“I was completely shocked when I saw this ancient religious painting hanging above her bed,” Tyrrell said in the statement. “It literally shone with quality!”
Oil painting on canvas – probably created by a follower of the Renaissance artist Filipino Lippi– depicts a pensive Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus as he plays with two angels. The rich red of Mary’s robe and the green, billowing folds of the robe of the angel in the foreground contrast with the cloudy countryside in the background.
Lippi was the son of the famous painter Fra Filippo Lippi. Born in Italy in 1457, Lippi was an artist in his own right, studying below Sandro Botticelli and working with Botticelli and other Renaissance artists on frescoes at Lorenzo de’ Medici villa in Spedaletto. Perhaps his most famous work was completed at the Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome, a short walk from the Pantheon, where he decorated the Carafa Chapel with a moving scene of heaven and earth.
Now titled The representation of the Virgin and Childthe work sold at Dawsons in late May for around $320,000 (£255,000).
While the auction house didn’t award the piece to Lippi himself, it’s possible bidders speculated otherwise, writes clean artit’s Sarah Cascone. Only five paintings by Lippi sold for more than this Madonna and Child. The highest price was set in 2005 by Christie’s New York, which sold a painting titled Penitent Mary Magdalene for $2.3 million, according to reports from the time.
The painting is certainly not the first to be found hidden in plain sight. In 2010, a abandoned Paris apartment left almost untouched since the start of World War II was revealed; the residence was full of art, including a remarkable painting by 19th century artist Giovanni Boldini. A decade later, in 2020, a Manhattan couple realized they had a painting by Jacob Lawrence that had been missing for over 60 years. They had purchased the artwork, part of Lawrence Struggle: From the Story of the American People series, at a Christmas charity auction in 1960. In 2021, another painting in the series resurfaced, this time in the home of an Upper West Side nurse.
The sale of the eventual Lippi painting offers a welcome solution to a family struggling to pay the medical bills of the elderly owner of the London residence, who moved into a care home last year, per ART newsFrancesca Aton. She suffers from dementia and proceeds will go to her care. The auction house calls the painting, given its biblical content, a “godsend for all.”