The 15th-century painting "Young Man Holding a Roundel" became the most expensive work by the Renaissance artist ever to appear at auction, and the most valuable Old Masters work ever sold at Sotheby's, the auction house announced.
It was also the second work to top the $80 million mark since Sotheby's began live-streaming its auctions during the pandemic, according to a press statement, with the first being Francis Bacon's "Oresteia of Aeschylus," which sold for $84.5 million last June.
Believed to have been produced in the late 1470s or early 1480s, Botticelli's portrait was purchased by its previous owner in 1982 for just £810,000 (a little over $1 million in today's money). It depicts an unidentified young man holding a small circular painting known as a roundel.
The roundel itself contains a miniature religious portrait by 14th-century Sienese painter, Bartolomeo Bulgarini, that Botticelli incorporated into the work.
"This painting is not just the greatest Botticelli in private hands but is to be considered amongst the finest Renaissance paintings in private ownership," head of Sotheby's Old Master painting department, Christopher Apostle, said in an email prior to the sale.
Having billed the work as "one the most significant portraits of any period ever to appear at auction," Sotheby's initially estimated bids in excess of $80 million. But Apostle also predicted that it could "very well be the next painting to surpass the rarified $100 million threshold."
Had it done so, it would have become the first painting to achieve a nine-figure sum at auction since Claude Monet's "Haystacks," which fetched over $110 million in 2019.
Though not as well-known as Botticelli masterpieces like "The Birth of Venus" and "Primavera," the portrait sold on Thursday "depicts the quintessential Renaissance man," Apostle said. "It has a very modern feel, largely thanks to its astonishing condition and setting," he said.
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