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Early artwork by Titian with dramatic past of thefts to go under hammer in London

Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Titian (
Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Titian ( Copyright Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Copyright Credit: Wikimedia Commons
By Theo FarrantAP
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The painting was first stolen by Napoleon's troops from Belvedere Palace in Vienna during the early 19th century. More recently, in 1995, it was taken from Longleat House in England.


Christie’s is set to auction Titian's 'Rest on the Flight to Egypt,' a painting by the illustrious Italian master that has not been seen on the market for 145 years.

The exquisite piece, expected to fetch up to £25 million (€30m), depicts a serene moment as the Holy Family pauses on their journey to Egypt. Mary tenderly cradles the infant Jesus while Joseph looks on.

It is one of the last of the Renaissance master's early religious works still in private hands so its upcoming auction by Christie's is attracting a lot of attention.

However, the painting, created around 1510, has been desirable to art thieves and was stolen on two occasions in the past.

The painting's storied past and illustrious owners

In 1995, the painting was taken from Longleat House, where it had hung since it was acquired by the 4th Marquess of Bath in 1878.

Orlando Rock, chairman of Christie's UK, explains the dramatic tale: "This is one of the most exciting pictures that Christie's has ever handled. It has a slightly chequered history because in the 1990s it was actually on display in the state drawing room of Longleat House on the first floor and in the middle of the night somebody climbed up on a ladder and it was stolen out of its frame and it then disappeared."

Self-portrait of the Italian painter Tiziano Vecellio (c. 1490-1576), better known as Titian.
Self-portrait of the Italian painter Tiziano Vecellio (c. 1490-1576), better known as Titian.Credit: Museo Nacional del Prado
Longleat House in Wiltshire, England.
Longleat House in Wiltshire, England. Credit: Longleat House

It was missing for seven years and a reward of £100,000 was offered for its safe return.

The painting was eventually traced by art detective Charles Hill in the most unlikely of locations, inside a plastic carrier bag at a London bus stop.

"I mean it's very unusual to think that a picture of that value, of perhaps £15 or £25 million pounds was just there lying in a bus stop in London but I'm delighted to say it managed to survive without being damaged," says Rock.

Throughout its history, 'Rest on the Flight to Egypt' has passed through the hands of numerous influential figures, including Holy Roman Emperors. Napoleon's troops even seized it from Belvedere Palace in Vienna.

 Henry Pettifer looking at Titian's 'Rest on the Flight into Egypt'
Henry Pettifer looking at Titian's 'Rest on the Flight into Egypt'Credit: AP Photo

Henry Pettifer, a Christie's expert in early masters, describes the painting's evocative charm: "Titian's earlier works are certainly known for being extremely poetic and you see in this picture very much a poetic quality, a subtlety, a treatment of a religious subject but in a very natural way. He obviously is a very long-lived artist, achieved incredible fame and was known in later life to paint on a very grand heroic scale."

'Rest on the Flight to Egypt' will be the crowning jewel of Christie’s Old Masters Part I sale on 2 July 2024, with an estimated auction price between £15 and £25 million. (€18m - €30m.)

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