More than half of the total for the Royal and Noble auction running from January 3-20 came for ‘The Newbattle Turks’ consigned for sale by the Marquess of Lothian. Estimated at £50,000-70,000, they took £1.1m (£1.346m including buyer’s premium).
William Kerr, 3rd Earl of Lothian (1605-75) owned more than 300 oil paintings at Newbattle Abbey, many of them historical portraits of worthies and potentates of the type popular following the advent of the ‘Grand Tour’.
Writing in April 1645 during the tumult of the English Civil War, John Clerk (1611-79), Kerr’s agent in Europe, refers to his purchase for William of “32 pictures off noblemen and uthers in France [sic]”.
The collection is referenced in John Macky’s 1723 travelogue A journey through Scotland: in familiar letters from a gentleman here, to his friend abroad and again in inventories taken at Newbattle in 1798 and 1833.
Some 35 ‘Italian School’ oils were offered at Sotheby’s, most of them relined and well-preserved under a layer of discoloured varnish. The 29 portraits of medieval and later European notables made relatively modest sums – in three lots for a collective £62,000 – but there was much greater competition for the six pictures that depicted Tamerlane (1336-1405), Bayezid I (1360-1403), Mehmed I (1381-1421), Murad II (1404-51), Bayezid II (1447-1512) and Suleiman the Magnificent (1494-1566). Subject matter is everything.
These particular oils, the largest measuring 2ft 1in x 19in (63 x 49cm), are based on works from the so-called Giovio series, the 484 likenesses of rulers, statesmen and other figures of note, assembled by the historian and biographer Paolo Giovio (1483-1552) in a museum at Lake Como. While the original series has not survived intact, copies made for Cosimo I de’ Medici between 1552-68 are held at the Uffizi.
The portrait of Suleiman was much copied and exists in several versions. A newly discovered painted on copper was sold by Sotheby’s in March last year for £350,000.