Charles I’s lost painting, up for sale for the first time in nearly 400 years

For the first time in almost four centuries, an intriguing Gentileschi portrait from Charles I’s ‘lost’ art collection will come to auction.

One of the beheaded King’s favourite works – it has the kudos of having hung in his private quarters at Whitehall – Head of a Woman appears to have been drastically censored. An inventory of the King’s collection, drawn up between 1637 and 1639, describes ‘the Picture of a woeman with her left breast naked her right breast covered with a part of her Smock’. Since then, the panel has been reduced – probably by a later, more prudish owner.

As one of 1,300 paintings seized and sold by Oliver Cromwell’s government following the King’s execution for treason in 1649, it’s had a tumultuous history. The works were moved from the Royal Palaces to Somerset House, where they were sorted and designated for sale – and where Head of a Woman was acquired by Robert Houghton of Southwark in London, “gentleman and brewer to the late King”, in lieu of debts owed to him by Charles. Houghton apparently also purchased a set of tapestries, and Raphael’s Acts of the Apostles, which had been a gift to King Henry VIII from Pope Leo X. He later sold them to the Spanish Ambassador for the princely sum of £4,429.

Following Charles II’s Restoration, several works in the collection were reunited – but Head of a Woman was not among them. In fact it did not resurface again for 300 years: in 1930 it appeared in an exhibition at the Royal Academy.

Estimated at between $2 million and $3 million, Head of a Woman will be offered at Sotheby’s New York on January 25.  Visit the Sotheby’s website for further information.

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