A restituted portrait by the Italian Renaissance artist Bronzino will come to auction next year.
The ca. 1527 painting was restituted from the German government to the heirs of the Munich-based Jewish art collector Isle Hesselberger earlier this year. Proceeds from the sale will go toward Jewish causes and medical aid in New York.
Under the Nazi Regime, Hesselberger, the heir to a textiles business fortune, was forced to sell her estate along with her art collection and the Bronzino painting, which she bought in 1927. As part of the sale, Hesselberger was one of a group of Jews forced to aid in paying for the construction of a concentration camp located in Milbertshofen.
According to historians, Hesselberger negotiated a resettlement plan that she believed would spare her life in exchange for the payments. In November 1941, she was instead deported to the German-occupied Lithuania and killed. Her daughter survived persecution, relocating to the U.S.
The painting was slated to be part of Hilter’s unrealized museum in Linz, Austria; later recovered by American forces; and turned over to the German government, in whose possession it had remained for decades. Located on the painting’s back frame is the text “1400,” a cataloguing number that researchers believe to be associated with the Linz museum’s registry.
Titled Portrait of a Man, Facing Left, With a Quill and a Sheet of Paper, the work depicts a young man dressed in black garb sitting at a worktable. His left hand placed on a handwritten page that features a Latin riddle; his right hand holds a quill.
When Sotheby’s Old Masters and restitution researchers first reviewed the painting, it was attributed to Italian artist Jacopino del Conte. The auction house helped facilitate further research around its recent reattribution.
“We immediately suspected that we were looking at something much more significant,” said Elizabeth Lobkowicz, Sotheby’s New York–based Old Masters specialist, in a statement.
Lucian Simmons, the head of Sotheby’s restitution department, called the recently reattributed work “immensely rare.”
Throughout the early 20th century, it had previously been attributed to a number of minor Italian painters. According to a statement from Sotheby’s, the painting will be catalogued with an attribution to Agnolo Bronzino by the Florence-based curator Carlo Falciani in a forthcoming article set to be published next year. In the unreleased text, Falciani examines the possibility that the current work was originally produced as a self-portrait of the Italian artist.
Before its return to the Hesselberger estate earlier this year, the painting was hung on display in a federal building in the Germany city of Bonn. By early 2022, it had been relocated to German state building in Berlin while lawyers for Hesselberger’s heirs issued an official claim.
According to Sotheby’s specialists, portraits by the Florentine artist rarely surface on the open market. Only one other painting attributed to Bronzino, Portrait of a Young Man with a Book (ca. 1525), has been offered in a public sale. In 2015, it sold for $9 million at Christie’s in New York, about $1 million more than its estimate.