Twice-Stolen Titian Sets Artist Record at Auction

An early masterpiece by the Italian Renaissance painter fetched $22.1 million at Christie’s Old Masters Part I sale in London.

Jul 3, 2024By Emily Snow, MA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial Studies



Once owned by dukes, looted by Napoleon, and abandoned at a bus stop in a plastic bag, Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Titian (c. 1510) hit the auction block this week for the first time in over a century. Headlining Christie’s Old Masters Part I sale on July 2 in London, the early Titian masterpiece sold for $22,178,280, setting a new auction record for the Venetian artist.


Christie’s London Sells “Truly Outstanding” Titian

Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Titian, c. 1510. Source: Christie’s.


Rest on the Flight into Egypt is an early-16th-century wooden panel painting by Titian. Taken from the Gospel of Matthew, the story became a popular subject in Christian art in the 14th century, depicting Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus stopping to rest on their flight from Bethlehem to Egypt. Artists, including Titian, typically set the scene in a landscape. Andrew Fletcher, Christie’s Global Head of the Old Masters Department, described the painting as “the most important work by Titian to come to the auction market in more than a generation.”


Fletcher continued, “It is a picture that embodies the revolution in painting made by Titian at the start of the 16th century and is a truly outstanding example of the artist’s pioneering approach to both the use of color and the representation of the human form in the natural world, the artistic vocabulary that secured his status as the first Venetian painter to achieve fame throughout Europe in his lifetime and his position as one of the greatest painters in the history of Western art.”


From a Bus Stop to the Auction Block: The Painting’s Provenance

Christie’s London. Source: Wikipedia.


Get the latest articles delivered to your inbox

Sign up to our Free Weekly Newsletter

In addition to setting a new auction record for Titian, Rest on the Flight into Egypt has a dramatic, centuries-long backstory. Titian painted it in Venice when he was in his late teens, after which the work passed through the prestigious collections of various European nobles. In 1809, the painting was looted from Belvedere Palace in Vienna by Napoleon’s army. 1878 was the last time Rest on the Flight into Egypt appeared at auction. Christie’s London sold the painting to the 4th Marquess of Bath, who kept the painting at Longleat House, the family estate in England.


The painting was stolen again in 1995, this time from the drawing room of Longleat House. Seven years later, art detective Charley Hill recovered the missing Titian in a plastic carrier bag at a bus stop in London. The 8th Marquess of Bath, Ceawilin Thynn, inherited the painting and sold it at Christie’s London on July 2, 2024. Before Tuesday’s auction, Rest on the Flight into Egypt was one of just a few Titians belonging to a private collection.


Who Was Titian?

Sacred and Profane Love by Titian, 1514. Source: Borghese Gallery and Museum, Rome.


Titan was among the most important and versatile Venetian artists of the Italian Renaissance. His masterful portraits, rich landscape backgrounds, and captivating mythological and religious compositions made him internationally famous during and after his lifetime. Titian’s innovative application of color—characterized by luminous hues and atmospheric brushwork—especially influenced later generations of artists. Before Tuesday’s Old Masters Part I sale at Christie’s London, Titian’s previous auction record was set in 2011 at Sotheby’s New York when A Sacra Conversazione (c. 1560) sold for $16.9 million.

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.