One of the Last Privately Owned Botticelli Portraits Just Sold for $92 Million

Editor’s Note, January 28, 2021: Sandro Botticelli’s Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Roundel sold at Sotheby’s today for $92.2 million—the highest price paid for an Old Master painting since Leonardo da Vinci’s record-breaking Salvator Mundi fetched $450 million in 2017, reports Katya Kazakina for theNew York Times. Read more about the 15th-century work’s history below.

A pared-down Sandro Botticelli portrait of a young Florentine man is poised to sell for an astronomical amount when it goes up for auction in January 2021.

Initial estimates for Young Man Holding a Roundel hover around $80 million—the highest estimate for an Old Master painting that Sotheby’s has ever set, the auction house tells the Guardian’s Mark Brown.

Botticelli painted Young Man between the late 1470s and early 1480s, according to a Sotheby’s statement. The first recorded mention of the work dates to the 1930s, when it was housed at a British nobleman’s Welsh estate. The painting changed hands several times before being sold to a private collector for £810,000, or roughly £2.5 million today ($3.2 million USD), in 1982.

Over the past half century, the portrait has been exhibited at a number of major cultural institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City; the National Gallery in London; and the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, D.C. But doubts surrounding its authorship persisted until 1987, when art historian Richard Stapleford established Young Mans status as a genuine Botticelli beyond a reasonable doubt.

Detail of Young Man Holding A Roundel (Courtesy of Sotheby’s)
Detail of Young Man Holding A Roundel (Courtesy of Sotheby’s)

As NGA curators observed in a 2001 exhibition catalog, “Given the superb quality and inventiveness of the portrait, it is surprising how often scholars have questioned its attribution to the [Renaissance] master.”

Only a dozen or so Botticelli portraits survive today. This work is one of three housed in a private collection rather than a museum, reports Margaret Carrigan for the Art Newspaper.

“This painting is not just the greatest Botticelli in private hands but is to be considered amongst the finest Renaissance paintings in private ownership,” Christopher Apostle, head of Sotheby’s Old Master painting department, tells Lily Smith and Oscar Holland of CNN.

Today, many of Botticelli’s most famous works—including Primavera and the enormous, elaborate Birth of Venus—are synonymous with the Italian Renaissance. Compared with these compositions, Young Man stands out for its relative simplicity. The sitter, framed by a stark background of bright blue sky and a rectangular window, faces the viewer with a serene gaze. In his hands, he holds a roundel, or small circular frame, featuring a small piece of an entirely different painting.

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This unusual addition has puzzled scholars for generations. Carefully affixed to the canvas, the roundel work depicts an elderly saint with a long beard, framed against a golden background.

Most researchers attribute the portrait of the saint to Sienese painter

Sandro Botticelli, Portrait Of A Young Man With the Medal of Cosimo de’ Medici, 1470s-80s (Courtesy of Sotheby’s)