Masterpiece of Italian painter, Titian, once found at London bus stop could sell for $48 million

A twice-stolen painting by Italian Renaissance master Titian, which was once found in a plastic bag at a London bus stop, is expected to fetch as much as $48 million at auction.

The Rest On The Flight Into Egypt is going under the hammer at Christie’s in July with an estimate of £15 million to £25 million ($A29 million to $A48 million), according to a statement from the auction house.

The painting depicts Jesus, Mary and Joseph resting on their way to Egypt after learning that Herod, King of Judea, wanted to kill the young Christ.

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Titian, whose real name was Tiziano Vecellio, made the work in the first decade of the 16th century, at the beginning of his career.

Measuring just 146.2cm by 62.9cm, the painting is tiny compared with some of the massive works for which Titian became known later in his life.

The oil-on-canvas work has a remarkable history.

After changing hands among various European aristocrats, the painting was looted by Napoleonic troops during the French occupation of Vienna in 1809 and taken to Paris.

It was returned to Vienna in 1815 and again moved through private collections before ending up with John Alexander Thynne, 4th Marquess of Bath, in Wiltshire, England.

In 1995, it was stolen from Longleat, the home of Thynne’s descendants, and disappeared for seven years, before art detective Charles Hill found it at a London bus stop.

“This is a painting, then, that has been coveted by aristocrats, archdukes and emperors alike: prized for its vividly coloured scene of familial affection within the natural world,” Christie’s said.

“Like its subjects, The Rest On The Flight Into Egypt has been on a long and eventful journey — a journey that’s far from over.”

The painting will be offered as part of the Old Masters Part I auction at Christie’s in London on July 2.

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