Titian painting given to Charles I's royal plumber goes up for auction

Updated 23rd January 2018
Credit: Courtesy Sotheby's
Titian painting given to Charles I's royal plumber goes up for auction
Written by Allyssia Alleyne, CNN
A Titian painting once owned by King Charles I of England and given to his plumber is set to hit the auction block in New York.
"Saint Margaret" was originally given to royal plumber John Embry following Charles I's execution in 1649 as part of a debt settlement. The republican government repaid only part of the £903 -- roughly £145,455 ($202,075) today, based on Bank of England inflation records -- Embry was owed in cash, and allowed him to choose works of art to make up the difference.
"Saint Margaret" by Titian will go on sale at Sotheby's New York on Feb. 1.
"Saint Margaret" by Titian will go on sale at Sotheby's New York on Feb. 1. Credit: Courtesy Sotheby's
Of the 24 pictures he selected, the Titian, then valued at £100 -- about £16,108 ($22,376) in today's money -- was the most valuable. Now, Sotheby's estimates the painting could sell for $2 million to $3 million when offered for auction on Feb. 1. (The artist's current auction record is $16.9 million.)
The value of this particular piece doesn't lie in its provenance alone. "Titian is one of the great painters of all time, and probably one of the most influential painters as well. He had a long and very successful career," said Alexander Bell, worldwide co-chairman of Sotheby's old master paintings department said in a phone interview. "(He was a) great favorite of Charles I, but also one of the most highly regarded artists in Europe from the previous century."
The painting is known to have passed hands several times -- making stops in the collections of an member of Parliament, a British diplomat and a London art dealer along the way -- before ending up with its current owner and seller, who has remained anonymous.

A storied collector

The six-and-a-half-foot "Saint Margaret," which according to Sotheby's is believed to have been painted in the mid-1560s, depicts the virgin martyr escaping from the body of a dragon. The painting will go on view at Sotheby's New York showrooms before its offered at the house's Master Paintings Evening Sale on Feb. 1.
Its exhibition coincides with the opening of "Charles I: King and Collector," a landmark reunion of some of the king's most spectacular artworks at London's Royal Academy of Arts. A renowned art lover, his collection included Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi," which sold for a record $450 million in 2017, as well as notable works from the likes of Raphael, Rubens and Anthony van Dyck.
"Charles I was, in a way, one of the greatest of all British collectors," Bell said. "The acquisition of the (Duke of Mantua's) collection, and then through diplomatic gifts, but also through having agents who were actively seeking out works throughout Europe, he managed to amass this sensational collection.
"When Charles II (Charles I's heir) came back to the throne, he set about trying to get back as many of the pictures that had in the royal collection as possible, but a lot of them had passed into foreign ownership. That's why a number of these pictures are now at the Prado, the Louvre, and at other famous institutions."