The Darmstadt Madonna sold for more than 50 million euros
With a market value of 120 million euros, the painting by Hans Holbein the younger is the jewel of the Hesse's family collection
It would be necessary to go back to the end of the second world war to find a similar example. It has been decades since the traspass of ownership of a similar master work of this quality. The work by the Dutch painter, sometimes baptized as the northern equivalent of the Sistine Madonna by Raphael, is unexportable.
This condition has limited its sale, its price and, to a certaint degree, its current owner, who is a private collector instead of a public museum. Donatus, prince of Hesse was forced to sell the jewel of his collection with the recent passing of the last member of the southern branch of the german aristocratic family, Margaret von Hesse. The merger of holdings of both branches entailed certain tax obligations that include the payment of 25 million euros to the German state. As opposed to France or Spain, Germany does not have a method of tax exemption through the donantion of a work of art. A peculiarity that unfortunately has gone against the german people.
Although Cristoph Douglas, the London dealer in charge of the transaction, first offered the work to the Städel museum in Frankfurt, the german museum was unable to raise more than 40 million euros. Then for a moment, the idea of a collaboration between the German industrialist, Reinhold Würth and the museum, to raise the necessary funds followed. But the operation was in vain, the museum was hessitant to share ownership with the future heirs of Würth's state.
Finally the work was sold to Würth, being the only candidate capable of meeting the extravegant payment demands. The canvas comissioned by Meyer von Hasen in 1526 to Hans Holbein, represents the Vigin of Mercy with her cape extended hovering over the members of patron's family. The painting, miracolousely scaped the iconoclasm in Basel in 1529. A century later it reappeared in Paris in hands of the French dealer Le Blond. Two clients disputed the work, an Amsterdam book seller and the Queen of France, Marie de Medicis. Taking full advantage of the painting's popularity and not wanting to abandon the possibility of another sale, Le Blond ordered Bartholomäus Sarburg a copy of the work.
Interestingly enough the original went to the Dutch book seller, where it remained until 1822, when it appeared in a Paris auction and was sold to prince William of Prussia, who bequeathed it to his wife, a member of the Hesse family.
With the rediscovery of the copy, much controversy sprang up surrounding the originality of the canvas and the matter was finally settled with the invention of X rays. The radiographs show a trace also present in the original sketches drawn by Holbein, and the matter was finaly settled.
After more than a 150 years exhibited (with some interruptions) in Darmstadt castle, since 2003 it hangs in the walls of the Städel museum, where it will remain for some time before travelling to Würth's private museum in Schwäbisch Hall. Alfonso Carbajo Agrasar