Botticelli masterpiece sells for US$92m at US auction

A Sotheby's employee poses for a photograph with the artwork Young Man Holding A Roundel by Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - A portrait by Italian renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli sold for US$92 million (S$122 million) at an online Sotheby's auction on Thursday (Jan 28), smashing the record price for the artist.

Young Man Holding A Roundel, believed to have been painted in the 1470s or 1480s, is considered one of Botticelli's finest portraits and is the highlight of Sotheby's Masters Week sale in New York.

"This is a work that transcends time and categories. Now we really do know the price of beauty," said George Wachter, co-chairman of old master paintings at Sotheby's.

The 58cm by 39cm painting shows a man in his late teenage years with long golden hair sitting holding a disc featuring a bearded saint.

The roundel, which depicts the saint with his right hand raised, is an original 14th-century artwork attributed to Sienese painter Bartolommeo Bulgarini.

Art historians suspect the Botticelli depicts a nobleman proudly showing off the earlier artwork.

"This image symbolises and exemplifies the Renaissance in Florence," Christopher Apostle, Sotheby's senior vice-president, told AFP ahead of the auction.

"We haven't seen anything like it in my lifetime," he added, describing it as "a masterpiece."

The auction, which took place virtually and was streamed live online because of the coronavirus pandemic, saw fierce bidding between Sotheby's representatives in New York and London, with a buyer directing orders through London winning out.

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

The price establishes the work as one of the most significant portraits to have ever sold at auction.

It becomes the second most valuable old master painting ever auctioned after Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi went for US$450.3 million at a Christie's sale in 2017.

Thursday's price ranks alongside Gustav Klimt's Portrait Of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, which sold for US$87.9 million in 2006 and Vincent Van Gogh's Portrait Of Dr Gachet, which fetched US$82.5 million in 1990.

It is also the highest auction sale for a work of art in almost two years since Claude Monet's Grainstacks, sold for US$110.7 million in May 2019.

The previous record for a Botticelli was set in 2013 when Madonna And Child With Young Saint John The Baptist sold for US$10.4 million.


Young Man Holding A Roundel was handed down through several generations of an aristocratic family in Wales for around 200 years.

Art scholars were unaware of the painting's existence until it first appeared on the market in the early 20th century.

It has spent much of the last 40 years on public display since New York real estate magnate Sheldon Solow acquired it in 1982 for just £810,000.

It has appeared at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery in London and elsewhere.

The auction house said Young Man Holding A Roundel is as significant as Botticelli's Portrait Of A Man With A Medal Of Cosimo The Elder and Portrait Of Giuliano de' Medici.

Botticelli, who lived from the 1440s to 1510, is one of the most celebrated painters of the early Renaissance period, but only about a dozen examples of his work survive today.

His best-known works are The Birth Of Venus and Primavera.

"I think we underestimate how groundbreaking he was," said Apostle.

The Sotheby's sale was also due to sell Rembrandt's Abraham And The Angels for up to US$30 million but it was withdrawn shortly before the auction.

It has been in private collections for 150 years and last sold at auction in 1848, for a mere US$64.

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