James Baskerville (left) and Jonathan den Otter (right) with their selection of Old Masters highlights

Old Masters for new collectors

Ahead of the online auction Old Master Works on Paper: Prints and Drawings for under £5,000, two specialists from Christie’s highlight five intriguing and affordable works from the sale

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  • Francisco de Goya’s Modo de Volar Estimate £2,000-3,000

Modo de Volar (A Way of Flying), also known by its alternative title Donde Hay Ganas Hay Maña (Where There’s a Will There’s a Way), is one of the most famous images from Goya’s final printed series, Los Proverbios,’ explains Christie’s prints and multiples Associate Specialist James Baskerville (above left). ‘Goya used both etching and aquatint to create this powerful image.’ Fine-grained aquatint wears quickly during the printing process, which means impressions from the first edition are of superior quality and far more sought after than impressions from later editions.

Goya didn’t engrave titles on the etching plates for this series, unlike his Los Caprichos and La Tauromaquia series, so the image’s meaning remains unknown. It has been suggested, however, that this fantastical picture of a man in flight may refer to Leonardo da Vinci’s late-15th-century designs for a flying machine, remarks Baskerville. ‘Perhaps this subject matter suggests a futility in pursuing such an endeavour, or conversely, that anything is possible with enough perseverance and determination.’

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  • Guercino’s Study of a Putto Estimate £4,000-6,000

This drawing by Guercino is a quick study in pen (either reed or a feather), and a preparatory sketch for a levitating putto in the artist’s altarpiece in the San Nicola da Tolentino church in Rome, from 1645, which shows saints Gertrude and Lucretia. ‘The drawing gives wonderful insight into the working method of the artist while he was preparing the large painting,’ says Christie’s Old Master drawings Associate Specialist Jonathan den Otter, pictured above with the framed sketch. ‘You can see subtle pentimenti where the artist was struggling to get it right, especially in the putto’s left hand.’

Den Otter goes on to explain that the mount on which the drawing is preserved was added by the celebrated collector Francesco Maria Niccolò Gabburri (1676-1742), who wrote the work’s inventory number as well as the attribution to Guercino on its reverse.

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  • Giuseppe Scolari’s Saint George and the Dragon Estimate £4,000-6,000

Instead of using the traditional method of crosshatching, Giuseppe Scolari made this impressive and comparatively monumental woodcut with a type of handheld chisel known as a burin. The result are these sinuous, flowing lines of white and black detail.

The lines amplify the rearing movement of Saint George’s horse as its hooves are about to crash down onto the dragon below. ‘The look of terror on Saint George’s face adds a nervous energy to the scene,’ Baskerville says, ‘which captures the moment his lance has broken in two after spearing the mouth of the dragon.’

Scolari is something of a mystery and is only known to us today through this small oeuvre of nine firmly attributed woodcuts. ‘Sadly, none of his paintings or drawings have survived,’ says the specialist.

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  • Giulio Aluisetti’s Design for the high altar in the church of San Simpliciano, Milan Estimate £2,000-3,000

This drawing by Giulio Aluisetti is a study for the high altar of the San Simpliciano in Milan, one of the oldest churches in the city, and gives a fascinating glimpse into its design process: Aluisetti has pasted on a second piece of paper that contains an alternative design for the tabernacle. ‘This was possibly because the church didn’t like this first design,’ suggests den Otter.

The sheet also has a number of inscriptions, which detail the church’s approval for the design. ‘A few small, final changes were made when the altar was actually built,’ continues the specialist. ‘The angels flanking the altar were replaced by two figures in prayer and the central cross was switched for a sculpture, but otherwise the eventual structure is pretty close to that set out by Aluisetti on this sheet.’

Detail showing Aluisettis inserted alternative design for the churchs tabernacle 

Detail showing Aluisetti's inserted alternative design for the church's tabernacle 

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  • Enea Vico’s The Academy of Baccio Bandinelli Estimate £2,000-3,000

Although many artists, including Rembrandt and Goya, were master printmakers in their own right, printmaking during the Renaissance was often a collaborative process between artists and artist-engravers. ‘This print is such an example,’ says Baskerville. ‘Baccio Bandinelli, the Mannerist sculptor, produced a drawn design and then commissioned Enea Vico to translate his work into an engraving.’

The picture presents Bandinelli’s workshop as a scholarly enterprise, with classical models, books and human skeletons scattered around the studio, while his pupils draw by candlelight.

‘In reality the workshop wouldn’t have looked like this, but by presenting it as a place of gentlemanly study and referring to it as an ‘academy' Bandinelli is evoking Plato’s Academy of Ancient Greece, and elevating his own status,' Baskerville remarks. ‘Intrinsically, the medium of printmaking allowed for the easy distribution of his visual claim.’