Rare Botticelli portrait sold for record $92 million | DW | 28.01.2021

The art world held its breath as Sandro Botticelli’s Young Man Holding a Roundel went on auction at Sotheby’sin New York on January 28.

The painting that has been shown in leading museums worldwide over the past decades was valued at about €66 million ($80 million). 

Sotheby’s said the final price, including fees and commissions, was $92.2 million after it sold under the hammer for $80 million.

The previous record for a Botticelli was set in 2013 when Madonna and Child with Young Saint John the Baptist sold for $10.4 million.

Old Masters auctions are rare, and this particular masterpiece is one of only 12 surviving portraits from the hand of the Florentine painter. Sandro Botticelli was one of the greats of the Renaissance period and of European art history in general. Born in 1445, Botticelli painted, among others, the mythological-allegorical paintings Birth of Venus and Primavera.

Recently, Claude Monet’s Meules fetched $111 million, and in 2017, Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi was sold for an incredible $450 million at a Christie’s auction.

Identity is a mystery

Young Man Holding a Roundel, painted only a few years after Primavera, is dated to the mid-1480s. Botticelli had moved away from the prevailing fashion of the profile portrait common in Italy and painted this young man almost in frontal view.

The secret of the young man’s identity has never been revealed, but there is speculation he belonged to the circle of people surrounding Lorenzo de Medici, a patron of the arts who particularly appreciated and supported Sandro Botticelli.

A detail from the 1477 painting ‘Primavera’

The young man’s posture and clothing show he was a nobleman. He holds a large medallion of an old man with a long, gray beard, perhaps a family patron saint raising his hand in blessing. Botticelli based the portrait on the representation of the 14th century Sienese painter Bartolommeo Bulgarini.

Painting changed hands several times

The bust-length panel portrait itself was largely unknown for centuries and hung unnoticed in a Welsh lord’s castle. It was not until the 1930s that it became known to a small circle of art connoisseurs.

A London art dealer owned it from 1935-1938, and then sold it to a collector. The collector’s heirs put it up for auction at Christie’s in 1982, where the current owner bought it for just £810,000 (€913,000 or $1.1 million).

This article was adapted from German.

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Credit: Deutsche Welle

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