Titian
‘Saint Margaret’ by Tiziano Vecellio, called Titian, and workshop will be offered at Sotheby’s in New York on February 1.

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But some are amazed it has survived at all.

1 It was owned by the doomed king, Charles I: Charles I (1600–1649) built up a vast art collection and this painting was first recorded there in 1639. It is one of two versions of the subject signed by Titian - the other painting is in the Museo del Prado, Madrid.

2 The plumber bought it: It was taken from Charles I’s art collection after his execution in 1649. Oliver Cromwell’s government needed to raise money and pay off debts. It was one of around 2000 artworks sold. Royal plumber John Embry was owed £903 for various palace repairs. Art critic, historian and TV presenter Andrew Graham-Dixon explains: “He [Embry] must have been more than just a plumber because the bill is for £200,000 in modern money. He got paid half in cash and half with a Titian [and other artworks].” Embry chose 24 paintings, including this Titian, to settle his debt.

3 It was owned by ‘Mad Dick’: It is unclear what Embry did with his Titian but it was later recorded in the collection of Richard 'Mad Dick' Norton (1666-1732). ‘Mad Dick’, who was for a time an MP, is believed to have inherited it from his grandfather Colonel Norton. ‘Mad Dick’ was described as an “eccentric man given to flamboyant tastes” and tried to give away all his possessions including his mansion as he was terrified of the devil.

Despite its troubled history the painting was later owned by the aristocratic Harcourt family of Oxfordshire and eventually sold at auction in 1948, for 500 guineas. By 1959 it was sold by a Swiss dealer to a forebear of the present owner.

See Sotheby's video ahead of the auction: