Christie’s will sell John Keats’ funeral mask

Christie’s is one of the most famous auction houses in the world, it was founded in London in 1766 and offers around 350 auctions every year. The British auction house has announced that on December 9 there will be two very important events: John Keats’ funeral mask and Joseph Severn’s Portrait of John Keats at Wentworth Place on the day of his composing ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ will be offered for sale. 

Who was John Keats? The English artist was born close to London on October 31, 1795, after finishing his studies he decided to quit his career in medicine in order to dedicate his life to literature. Keats belonged to the second generation of romantic poets and, despite his short life, he left us some of his most significant writings such as “Endymion”, “Hyperion”, the ballad “La belle dame sans merci”, the poem “The Eve of St. Agnes” and the odes such as “To Autumn”, “To Psyche” and “Ode to a Nightingale”. The tragic events he had to face, when his father died during an accident and when his mother and brother lost their lives due to tuberculosis, influenced his poetry. According to Keats’ vision, poetry had no didactic purpose, but was simply a source of consolation and joy. The recurring theme in his works is beauty which for the artist was synonymous with truth; according to the poet there is a clear distinction between physical beauty, which could be perceived with the five senses and is destined to fade away with time, and spiritual beauty which instead will last forever. 

The writer fell ill with tuberculosis when he was still very young and in 1820 he decided to move to Italy, together with his close friend and painter Joseph Severn, in the hope that the mild climate could help his recovery. This hope disappeared when, a few months after his arrival in Italy, the boy’s health began to deteriorate, his friend Severn witnessed his death which happened in Rome on February 23, 1821. The day after his decease, a man was commissioned to take Keats’ face, hands and feet cast; the face mould was used by Severn to make the portrait of the poet. The artist’s body is still buried in Rome and the gravestone does not bear his name, but a simple inscription: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water”. 

Christie’s will also auction the second version of Joseph Severn’s portrait of Keats which is quoted around 50,000 and 80,000 pounds, the first version belongs to the National Portrait Gallery. As for the funeral mask, there are nine copies left, five of which are part of some public collections. The antique that will go on sale next December 9 has a value between 12,000 and 16,000 pounds. The auction will take place to commemorate the 200th anniversary of John Keats’ death. 

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