Titian's The Penitent Magdalen

Titian’s The Penitent Magdalen – €4.1m (£3.5m) at Dorotheum.

Image: Dorotheum

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Offered in Vienna on May 11 with a €1m-1.5m estimate, the auction house said bidders came from all over the world, participating on the phone, in the room and online. After several minutes of bidding it was knocked down to an anonymous phone bidder.

The price was the third highest at auction for the Venetian artist.

The Penitent Magdalen was Titian’s most frequently commissioned subject and many copies and variations were produced by the artist and his workshop over a 40-year period. This 3ft 10in x 3ft 2in (1.15m x 97cm) oil on canvas was thought to date to c.1550- 60 and was deemed closely connected to a version of similar date now in the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Owned by royalty

It came to auction from a vendor whose grandfather acquired it from a private English collection, according to the auction house.

The saleroom’s research identified it as a missing painting with an eventful history – a work once owned by a succession of European royalty including Philippe, Duke of Orléans (1674-1723), Christina, Queen of Sweden (1629-89) and, before that, possibly the Holy Roman Emperor Rudol f II (1552-1612).

It came to England after being exported from France during the Revolution and was acquired in 1792 by a syndicate of three wealthy aristocrats: Francis, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, his nephew George Granville Leveson- Gower and Frederick, 5th Earl of Carlisle.

Having appeared at a Phillips auction at Thirlestane House, Cheltenham, in 1859 – where it was offered as a work by Titian and sold for 66 guineas – it was since considered lost.

The price was the second highest for a lot sold at Dorotheum, only behind the €6.1m (£5.65m) for a monumental painting by Frans Francken II (1581-1642) which was bought by London Old Master dealer Johnny Van Haeften in 2010.