The meteoric escalation in value is striking evidence of just how much authenticity (who is said to have made a work) matters more than aesthetics (what it looks like) when it comes to predicting what a painting might be worth.

It is also a reminder of the power of connoisseurs. The dramatic change in value came about only because some experts decided the painting was by Rembrandt. But even today, others are not convinced that “The Adoration of the Kings” is really by the master.

In 1973, for example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art reattributed about 300 paintings, roughly 15 percent of those in its European collection. One of the downgraded was a portrait of Philip IV that had been listed as a Velásquez. Nearly 40 years later, the museum changed its mind and switched the attribution back to Velázquez, saying a cleaning revealed unmistakable characteristics of the artist’s technique. The painting was hung, once again, among other old masters.

But when attributions change, often so do values. For example, when the “Salvator Mundi,” a portrait of Christ that had been cataloged since 1900 as by an artist who worked in Leonardo da Vinci’s studio, was sold in the mid-2000s, the price was less than $10,000. Reattributed to da Vinci, it sold in 2013 for $83 million and then again for $127.5 million. Although some experts still harbored doubts about its authenticity, the painting set an auction record in 2017, selling for $450.3 million after an intensive marketing campaign by Christie’s.

“Adoration,” thought to have been painted around 1628, has at various times in its 400-year life been viewed as a work by Rembrandt. In its catalog, Sotheby’s noted that the work was described in 1822 as “an extraordinary fine specimen of the master,” and it was exhibited as a Rembrandt in the 1950s.

But Rembrandt’s authorship was contested in 1960 by a German art historian, Kurt Bauch. (Sotheby’s said he had only looked at a photograph of the painting.) Three years later, it was offered for sale by Sotheby’s as a Rembrandt but went unsold. In 1985, the painting came back on the market, at Christies, and this time it was sold — but only as a work from the “circle” of Rembrandt.

It was still viewed as “circle” of Rembrandt in 2021, when Christie’s put the work up for sale in Amsterdam. In the Christie’s catalog, the Dutch curator Christiaan Vogelaar said “Adoration” recalled the work of both Willem de Poorter, believed by some to have been an apprentice to Rembrandt, and Jan Adriaensz van Staveren. Bidders, though, clearly thought it could be by the master, and the price rose to 860,000 euros, or $992,000.



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