A portrait by 16th century artist Raphael that went for $325 four decades ago, sold at auction on Thursday for a record £18.5 million($37.3 million).
Auction house Christie's said the painting of Lorenzo de Medici, ruler of Florence from 1513 to 1519 when he died, was the most important Renaissance work to come to auction in a generation and the most important by the Italian Old Master, whose full name was Raffaello Sanzio, in decades.
The painting had been owned since 1968 by renowned dealer and gallery owner Ira Spanierman, who paid just $325 for it three years before it was definitively attributed to Raphael.
It had been expected to sell on Thursday for up to £15 million. The buyer was a private collector. The previous auction record for the artist, dubbed the "painter of princes", was 5.3 million pounds, paid in 1996 for a sketch of the head and hand of an apostle.
The portrait shows a bearded Lorenzo de Medici, resplendent in gold and rose robes trimmed with fur, gazing haughtily out at the viewer. It is one of only a handful of paintings by the Renaissance artist still in private hands.
The sale came a day after Diego Velazquez's painting of Saint Rufina sold at rival auction house Sotheby's for £8.4 million to the Fundaci n Focus-Abengoa of Seville, the painter's birthplace.
That was the highest price paid for a Spanish Old Master painting at auction. The Medicis, one of the richest families in Europe, ruled Florence from the 14th to the 17th centuries and were regular patrons of artists during the High Renaissance.
Raphael, born in Urbino in 1483 and orphaned by the age of 11, moved to Florence in 1504 where he stayed for four years, soaking up the influences of contemporaries Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
Such was his talent that he was summoned to Rome by Pope Julius II in 1508, where he stayed until his premature death in 1520. The pope, who was believed to have had plans to make Raphael a cardinal, is said to have wept bitterly when the artist died.more