Catalogued as ‘after the antique’, it was pitched at £50-100 but fetched £20,800 (plus 21% buyer’s premium) after a fervent competition broke out between UK, Italian and French bidders. The pen and ink sketch measured 6in (15cm) in diameter.
Although its frame had some damage, it was in good condition overall. It came to auction at Ryedale from a 90-year-old private vendor from Fraserburgh in Scotland. She had inherited it many decades ago from her great-aunt who apparently had been a lady-in-waiting for Lady Buchanan.
A number of parties recognised the style and composition of the diminutive drawing as late 16th or early 17th century Netherlandish Mannerist.
Although the tondo format is normally associated with Florentine paintings, it also appeared occasionally in both other Italian and northern European drawings during this period. Among the possible names suggested by trade sources were Joachim Wtewael (1566-1638), Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617), Abraham Bloemaert (1566-1651) and Jan Harmensz Muller (1571-1628), although the first two were deemed more likely candidates.
The bidding on November 3-5 caused a good deal of excitement in the Kirkbymoorside saleroom, not least for the elderly vendor who was sat in the room. It eventually came down to a battle between a UK dealer and a French buyer bidding online via thesaleroom.com before being knocked down to the latter.
It is now likely that the drawing will be researched and restored and it will be interesting to see if it reemerges in due course with a full attribution.