One of the greatest portraits ever painted by Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli sold on January 28 at Sotheby’s New York for a record $92.2 million. In a sale that marked the first major auction of the year, Botticelli’s “Young Man Holding a Roundel” saw competitive transatlantic bidding between representatives in New York and London, with the final under-bidder bidding on behalf of a collector in Asia. Only one of three portraits left in private hands by this leading artist of the Italian Renaissance, known to many for his famous “Primavera” and “Birth of Venus,” the painting had attracted pre-sale interest from major institutional and private buyers alike. The price achieved makes it not only one of the most valuable portraits of any era ever sold, but also the second most valuable Old Master painting to ever sell at auction, second to Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi which sold for $450m in 2017.
Two bidders ultimately competed for the painting and Sotheby’s did not disclose the identity of the final buyer.
Christopher Apostle, head of Sotheby’s Old Masters department, New York, said, “This is not only an exceptional painting by Sandro Botticelli, it is also the epitome of beauty, and of a moment when so much of our Western civilization began. The sale’s result is a fitting tribute, both to the painting itself and all that it represents.”
George Wachter, Sotheby’s co-chairman of Old Master paintings worldwide, added, “As fresh today as when he was painted 550 years ago, Botticelli’s ‘Young Man’ has cast his spell over everyone who has seen him. While the price achieved is the second highest ever for an Old Master Painting, this is a work that transcends time and categories. Now we really do know the price of beauty.”
Sotheby’s exhibited it in London, Dubai, Los Angeles and New York ahead of Thursday’s sale. The price, which included the auction house’s fees, was the highest price paid for an old master since Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi sold for $US450m in 2017.
Leading up to the auction, “Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Roundel” had been on a world tour, having been exhibited first in London, then in Dubai, Los Angeles and New York City.
The Botticelli now stands alongside Francis Bacon’s “Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus” as the second work to have gone beyond the $80 million threshold at auction since Sotheby’s launched the new live-streamed auction format in 2020. The January 28 sale also registered some of the highest number of participants ever seen in a Sotheby’s live-streamed auction, with 66 percent having registered online. Collectors of Old Masters also quickly embraced both livestream and online auction formats, with the category seeing record online activity last year, with double the number of online sales compared to 2019 and more than four times the aggregate online sales total.