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Christie's offers Raphael work worth up to $26 million

 An employee poses for photographers at the unveiling of Renaissance painter Raphael
An employee poses for photographers at the unveiling of Renaissance painter Raphael's fresco 'Head of a Muse' at Christie's auction house in London October 20, 2009. REUTERS/Kieran Doherty
— image credit: Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) - Christie's will offer for sale a drawing by Renaissance master Raphael which he used as a study for a figure in a Vatican fresco, and expects it to break the record for an old master drawing sold at auction.

"Head of a Muse" will go under the hammer at the London sale of old masters and 19th century art on December 8 and has been estimated at 12-16 million pounds ($20-26 million).

The existing record for an old master drawing at auction stands at 8.1 million pounds, including buyer's premium, for Michelangelo's "The Risen Christ" in 2000 and for Leonardo da Vinci's "Horse and Rider" in 2001.

The Raphael drawing was a study for a figure in "Parnassus," one of a series of four frescoes in the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican commissioned by Pope Julius II and executed between 1508 and 1511.

Christie's said the series was "widely considered to be the artist's greatest masterpiece."

In 1508, Raphael was summoned to Rome and commissioned to paint frescoes at the same time that Michelangelo was painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

The December 8 auction will also include Rembrandt's "Portrait of a man, half-length, with his arms akimbo," estimated at up to 25 million pounds, and "Saint John the Evangelist" by Italian artist Domenico Zampieri, valued at 7-10 million pounds.

"The auction in December will be a landmark sale for the art market," said Richard Knight, co-head of old masters at Christie's.

"The market for old masters has shown stability over the last year as international collectors continue to seize opportunities to acquire works which rarely appear on the market."

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)

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