The Most Expensive Art by Old Masters

Who created the piece which sold for the highest price in the 20th century, you may wonder.

most expensive painting ever sold

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most expensive 20th century painting sold ais Andy Warhol’s “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn”, which was sold for $195 million. 

But what about the Old Master painters? The Old Masters were European artists that came to prominence between the 13th and 18th centuries. 

While more recent artists are currently in favor, the Old Masters once dominated auction listings. With the diminishing supply, the demand is higher than ever, and these works are still some of the most valuable paintings in the world. Despite the interest in newer artists and changes in the art market, the Old Masters still generate a lot of interest and their paintings are among the most expensive art ever sold. And there have also been some notable multi-million dollar private sales of Old Master artworks in recent years.

What Are the Most Valuable Old Masters’ Paintings In The World?

Let’s review the top ten highest-selling Old Masters.

10. Venice, a View of the Rialto Bridge, Looking North by Francesco Guardi

$43 million

This painting, created by the Italian artist in the mid-1760s, sold for £26.7 million ($43 million) in 2011. It had been in the Guinness family for generations before being sold to an anonymous bidder, selling for more than its original £25 million estimate.

9. Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino by J.M.W. Turner

$44.9 million

Completed in 1839, this is Turner’s final painting of Rome and had been in the possession of the 5th Earl of Rosebery and the Rothschild family since 1878. The painting shows an unexcavated vision of the Roman Forum and was purchased in 2010 on behalf of the Getty Museum.

8. Rome, from Mount Aventine by J.M.W. Turner

$47.6 million

The sale of this painting in 2014 became the British artist’s highest-selling work, reaching £30.3 million at Sotheby’s London. This 1835 painting depicts the view from Aventine Hill of the city of Rome. It was commissioned by art collector Hugh Andrew Johnstone Munro of Novar and remained in his collection until sold to the 5th Earl of Rosebery in 1878.

7. Head of a Young Apostle by Raphael

$47.8 million

In a tense auction battle between four bidders at Sotheby’s London, the winning bid of £29.7 million secured the c. 1519 painting. It had been in the Devonshire Collection at Chatsworth House, England, since 1720. The work was a study for the last painting completed by Raphael, The Transfiguration.

6. Head of a Muse by Raphael

$48 million

This sketch was completed in around 1510 in preparation for The Parnassus fresco commissioned by Pope Julius II. The first known owner of the piece was Gosuinus Uilenbroeck, a Dutch art collector, in 1725. It has also been owned by Sir Thomas Lawrence, an artist and collector of old masters, as well as King William II of Holland.

It was sold by Christie’s to an anonymous bidder for £29 million following a bidding war, nearly doubling its estimate.

5. Lot and His Daughters by Peter Paul Rubens

$58.2 million

Painted c. 1613-14, this is a depiction of the Biblical story, and it sold at Christie’s in London for £44.9 million in 2016. The painting represents the seduction of Lot during his exile from Sodom, a story that became popular in the 16th century among European artists.

It had been in a private collection for over a century and had previously been owned by the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I and the 1st Duke of Malborough. Its purchase in 2016 was by a charitable organization and is now displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

4. Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens

$76.5 million

Painted in around 1611, the Massacre of the Innocents is a rendering of the violent massacre in Bethlehem told in the Bible. The painting had been part of the Liechtenstein Collection in Vienna, Austria, from the end of the 17th century. During that time, it had twice been cataloged as being the work of other men.

It wasn’t until 2001, when the painting was at Sotheby’s London, that it was seen by George Gordon, a Flemish and Dutch painting expert. He judged the style of the painting to be very similar to Samson and Delilah, which was painted around the same time. This rediscovered Ruben, was then sold for £49.5 million to a Canadian art collector Kenneth Thomson. It has since been donated to the Art Gallery of Ontario.

3. Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Roundel by Sandro Botticelli

$92.2 million

The pre-sale estimate of $80 million was surpassed in 2021 when this painting went on sale at Sotheby’s New York. It achieved a sale price of $92.2 million, going to a Russian buyer. This easily surpassed the previous highest sale price Botticelli had reached of $10.4 million. It was sold from the collection of Sheldon Solow, who had purchased it in 1982 for $1.3 million.

The painting is believed to represent the beauty ideals of Renaissance Florentine society and was completed in c. 1480. It is also claimed to be one of the last privately owned secular portraits by the artist.

2. Pendant Portraits of Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit by Rembrandt van Rijn

$195 million

This pair of pendant portraits was jointly purchased by the French and Dutch governments in 2016. These portraits were completed in 1634 of newlyweds Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit. The couple are portrayed in fine detail, wearing rich black and laced costumes befitting high society Amsterdam newlyweds. These are the only full-length paintings known to have been created by Rembrandt.

Previously in the Rothschild collection, they are now jointly owned by the Louvre in Paris and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. They are always displayed together.

1. Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci

$450.3 million

Salvator Mundi became the most expensive piece of art sold at auction in 2016 by Christie’s New York. After a nearly 20-minute bidding war, the winning bidder was Prince Badr bin Abdullah. However, it was later revealed that the new owner was Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.

Salvator Mundi is Latin for “Savior of the World” and depicts Christ with a transparent orb in one hand representing the celestial sphere of the heavens, and signaling the cross with the other hand.

There are about 30 copies and variations of this work created by followers and students of Leonardo. And, in fact, there is some dispute about how much Leonardo contributed to this work, though most leading scholars consider it to be an original Leonardo da Vinci painting.