The ‘Fine Art’ auction at Cambi, which will be held on Thursday 13 December at MacKenzie Castle, has one brightly lit star: the beautiful Holy Family by Rubens, which will be at auction for the first time after 80 years.

The news is one of those rare and unique occasions that seldom hits the art world. In fact, 'rediscovered' works are increasingly rare, and when these auction masterpieces that haven’t been seen on the market for decades finally hit, there is always great clamour, even more so if we are dealing with particularly relevant works. This is precisely the case of for the work at the Genoese auction house, Cambi, which announced the sale of the Rubens painted during the artist’s brief stay in Italy.

The Flemish painter arrived in Rome at the beginning of the 17th century: despite being only 24 years old, his artistic level was so remarkable that Vincenzo Gonzaga wanted him in the eternal city. And it is precisely in this Roman period that the young artist began to give shape to a totally original iconographic typology, namely the Holy Family with Saint Elisabetta, San Giovannino and Dove.

The Rubens painting up for sale at Cambi was bought in Rome around 1910 and, according to tradition, comes from a branch of the noble Roman family of the prince Colonna. Photo: Cambi The Rubens painting up for sale at Cambi was bought in Rome around 1910 and, according to tradition, comes from a branch of the noble Roman family of the prince Colonna. Photo: Cambi

Since the mid-18th century, this composition has been known thanks to a carryover print. The versions are attributed to Rubens, and are related to other paintings of the Italian period of the painter, including the Holy Family seen today at Palazzo Pitti.

To date, there are three works by Rubens with this original iconography: the New York version, dated 1602-1605 and kept at the Met in New York, the Los Angeles one, dated 1609 and exhibited at LACMA, and finally the present Roman one, which is to be sold at auction by Cambi.

Pietro Paolo Rubens. Left: The version kept at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Right: The version kept at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA Pietro Paolo Rubens. Left: The version kept at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Right: The version kept at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

The latter was bought in Rome in 1910, and since then it has always been part of a private collection: first in the USA, then in Italy. The painting, which has not been on the market for 80 years, was attributed to Rubens by two valuers in 1946, the same year the artist was part of an exhibition in Detroit. Remained unknown to scholars because of the rarity of the catalogue, it was first mentioned only in 1985 in a publication by D. Bodard, who, like the evaluators who preceded him, considered it an original.

A careful research carried out in 2001 highlighted the history of this Holy Family, noted as having been restored in a non-invasive manner in the post-war period and in 1997. But it is only this year that the painting has undergone a complete restoration and a more thorough cleaning, which has brought to light many previously unknown details. This version at Cambi demonstrates more vivid colours than ever before, demonstrating the importance of the Italian period in Rubens’ work.

Discover more details about the Holy Family at auction

Holy Family with Saint Elisabetta, San Giovannino and Dove by Peter Paul Rubens will be exhibited, together with all the lots of Cambi’s Fine Arts catalogue, from 7 to 10 December at MacKenzie Castle. The auction will be held Thursday 13 December.

Check out all Cambi lots directly on Barnebys