Ulysses discovering Achilles amidst the daughters of Lycomedes by Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770).

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These posted a record price for any item sold at auction in Italy and a world record for the artist at €5.1m (£3.5m).

The five oils on canvas were painted around 1720 for the walls of the drawing room on the piano nobile of Palazzo Sandi in Venice. The series (three are by the young Tiepolo) includes two large canvases exceeding 8 x 17ft (2.40 x 5.20m), and three smaller ones measuring about 8ft high (2.50m) by 3ft 2in (1m) across.

The cycle has survived exactly as it was conceived at the outset by Tommaso Sandi, and comprises: Ulysses discovering Achilles amidst the daughters of Lycomedes, Apollo flaying Marsyas, Hercules wrestling Antaeus, Coriolanus persuaded by his wife Volumnia and mother not to attack Rome and Three Graces, Venus and Mercury.

The iconographic whole is a celebration of eloquence and reason (Sandi was a lawyer) and the aspiration for an upright, honest life to be passed on to following generations. In it, intellect triumphs over instinct, music over bestiality, ingeniousness over obtuseness. And, of course, vice succumbs to virtue. The ceiling of the palace still has the fresco by Tiepolo of The Triumph of Eloquence.

The price reflects the artistic value of the works, the integrity of the pictorial cycle and the excellent state of conservation (the pictures have only been moved twice since painted).

Negative aspects were the sheer size and number of the canvases and the fact that along with three signed Tiepolos (one of the large and two 'small' canvases), two paintings in the series - the Coriolanus (one of the two large works) and the Graces - are by fellow Venetian Nicolò Bambini (1651-1739).

Moreover, the series has been notified since 1924, so no export was possible. Clearly, therefore, not an easy lot to sell. Yet on the day, there were three bidders on the phone. The identity of the winning bidder remains a mystery, but it is to be hoped that the cycle may one day be on public view. The sale will be described more fully in a forthcoming issue of ATG.

By Lucian Comoy