The 16th century drawing "Head of an Apostle" was a study for the masterpiece "Tranfiguration," the very last painting Renaissance master Raphael would finish. When Raphael died in 1520, the master artist was laid down in his studio as his "Transfiguration" piece hung over his body. Now, "Transfiguration" is on display at Rome's Vatican Museum while "Head of an Apostle" remained in the private hands of the 12th Duke of Devonshir's Chatsworth estate for decades.
Only two other major art pieces by Raphael have been on the market in the last 50 years. The last auction was held in 2009 for Raphael's "Head of a Muse," a black chalk drawing that sold for 29.2 million pounds a Christie's of London.
According to Gregory Rubinstein, Sotheby's head of old master drawings, "If you are lucky, at some point in your career a work like this comes along.
"A number of the world's greatest collectors stepped up tonight in recognition of the genius of Raphael and the extraordinary beauty of this drawing with its exceptional provenance."
Set on the Sotheby's auction block on Wednesday, "Head of an Apostle" was sold at a staggering 29.7 million pounds, or $47.9 million. A figure that is double the pre-sale expectations, this effectively makes "Apostle" an auction record for the artist.
Merely half a million pounds separate the value of "Head of an Apostle" and "Head of a Muse." In fact, the 29.2 million pounds "Head of a Muse" stands to be more valuable in dollars due to the fluctuating exchange rates. However, as both items were sold in pounds in London, Sotheby's auction of "Apostle" is the new leader.
Proceeds of the "Apostle" sale is expected to be used to invest in the upkeep of the the 12th Duke of Devonshire's Chatsworth estate. The 12th Duke of Devonshire is also a deputy chairman of Sotheby's.
The buyer of the one-of-a-kind "Head of the Apostle" drawing has not been identified.