Rediscovered Quentin Metsys Madonna Heads to Auction

On July 2, the Early Netherlandish painting will be a highlight of Christie’s Old Masters Part I sale in London.

May 21, 2024By Emily Snow, MA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial Studies


On Monday, May 20, Christie’s announced the upcoming sale of The Madonna of the Cherries by Quentin Metsys. Considered long lost until a recent restoration, the Early Netherlandish masterpiece is currently on view at Christie’s New York until May 22. It will then return to Christie’s London for a pre-sale exhibition from June 28 until the Old Masters Part I Sale on July 2.


The Madonna of the Cherries Could Fetch Over $10 Million

The Madonna of the Cherries by Quentin Metsys, c. 1520s. Source: Christie’s.


“One of the most celebrated paintings” by the Flemish artist Quentin Metsys, according to Christie’s, The Madonna of the Cherries (c. 1520s) will be a key highlight of the Old Masters Part I Sale at the auction house’s London headquarters on July 2. Metsys painted the Madonna at the height of his artistic maturity during the Northern Renaissance era, influencing multiple generations of artists and inspiring several copies and variants. The painting is estimated to sell for £8–12 million ($10–15 million).


Henry Pettifer, Christie’s International Deputy Chairman of Old Master Paintings, said in a statement, “We are delighted to be offering this work by Quentin Metsys that has only recently been recognized as the prime version of his celebrated late masterpiece—The Madonna of the Cherries—which helped cement his reputation as the founder of the Antwerp School of painting.”


After Rediscovery, Conservation Revealed Metsys’s Hand

Before (left) and after (right) the painting’s conservation. Source: Christie’s.


Get the latest articles delivered to your inbox

Sign up to our Free Weekly Newsletter

The Madonna of the Cherries by Quentin Metsys was considered a beloved masterwork during the artist’s lifetime. It first belonged to the prestigious Kunstkammer of Cornelis van der Geest, one of the most famous art collections of the era. By the late 17th century, the painting had been sold and its whereabouts were unknown. It finally reappeared at a sale in 1920 in Paris. By then, its composition had been so altered—including the addition of a curtain obscuring the window and landscape, and a discolored layer of varnish—that it was no longer recognized as Metsys’s Madonna.


For the next century, the painting was considered to be a studio variant inspired by the missing Metsys original. After being sold again in 2015, the painting underwent a transformative conservation process. The varnish and overpainting were removed, revealing the original paint surface that scholars identified as the “prime version” of Quentin Metsys’s The Madonna of the Cherries.


Who Was Quentin Metsys?

The Moneylender and His Wife by Quentin Metsys, 1514. Source: Louvre Abu Dhabi.


Also known by alternative spellings Quintin and Matsys, Quentin Mestys was a Flemish artist who painted in the Early Netherlandish tradition. He was born in Leuven, a Flemish city in modern-day Belgium, around 1466. He most likely trained as an ironsmith before becoming a professional painter. Metsys was an active artist in Antwerp for over two decades. There, he founded the Antwerp School, which became the leading school of painting in 16th-century Flanders. Quentin Metsys’s strikingly satirical style—and simultaneous religious, moralizing undertones—introduced inspiring new ideas to Flemish art without dismissing Early Netherlandish conventions. His work is characterized by straightforward modeling, vibrant pigments, and meticulous detail, as well as a devotion to realism that sometimes borders on grotesque.

Author Image

By Emily SnowMA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial StudiesEmily Snow is a contributing writer and art historian based in Amsterdam. She earned an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and loves knitting, her calico cat, and everything Victorian.