As Siobhan Tyrrell, head valuer at Dawsons Auctioneers’ London office, combed through the rooms of a north London bungalow, she found herself coming up dry. She simply didn’t see anything of much value.
But that changed when she made her way into the bedroom. Hanging above the bed was a stunning painting of the Madonna and child. Tyrrell, who has over 25 years of experience in her field, guessed that it dated to around the 16th century.
The owner of the home, a 90-year-old woman, had left Italy when she was young. Upon her father’s death, she inherited the painting, according to a statement from the auction house. It had been in her possession for more than 30 years.
“I was utterly shocked when I saw this early religious painting hanging above her bed,” says Tyrrell in the statement. “It literally glowed with quality!”
The oil-on-canvas painting—likely created by a follower of Renaissance artist Filippino Lippi—depicts a pensive Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus as he plays with two angels. The rich red of Mary’s gown and the green, billowing folds of the angel’s dress in the foreground are contrasted with the background’s cloudy countryside.
Lippi was the son of the renowned painter Fra Filippo Lippi. Born in Italy in 1457, Lippi was an artist in his own right, studying under Sandro Botticelli and working with Botticelli and other Renaissance artists on frescoes at Lorenzo de’ Medici’s villa in Spedaletto. Perhaps his most famous work was completed in Rome’s Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, just steps away from the Pantheon, where he decorated the Carafa Chapel with a moving scene of heaven and earth.
Now titled The Depiction of the Madonna and Child, the artwork sold at Dawsons in late May for roughly $320,000 (£255,000).
While the auction house did not attribute the piece to Lippi himself, it’s possible that bidders speculated otherwise, writes Artnet’s Sarah Cascone. Only five Lippi paintings have 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, an abandoned Paris apartment left almost untouched since the start of World War II came to light; 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 that they owned a Jacob Lawrence painting that had been missing for more than 60 years. They’d purchased the artwork, part of Lawrence’s Struggle: From the History of the American People series, at a Christmas charity auction in 1960. In 2021, yet another painting from the series resurfaced, this time at a nurse’s Upper West Side home.
The sale of the possible Lippi painting offers a welcome resolution for a family struggling to pay the medical bills of the London residence’s elderly owner, who moved into a nursing home last year, per ARTnews’ Francesca Aton. She is suffering from dementia, and the proceeds will go toward her care. The auction house calls the painting, given its biblical content, a “godsend to them all.”