Botticelli portrait could sell at auction for over $80M

Written by Lily Smith, CNN

Contributors Oscar Holland, CNN

A 15th-century painting by early Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli is expected to sell for over $80 million when it goes under the hammer in New York next year.

Believed to have been produced in the late 1470s or early 1480s, “Young Man Holding a Roundel” is one of the last known portraits by the Italian artist still in private hands, according to Sotheby’s, which on Thursday revealed the artwork as part of its forthcoming Masters Week auctions.

The painting, which was bought by the current owner for just $810,000 in 1982, depicts an unidentified young man holding a small circular painting known as a roundel. It has been loaned to a number of major museums over the past 50 years, including the National Gallery in London and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Sandro Botticelli’s “Young Man Holding a Roundel” is expected to sell for over $80 million when it goes to auction in January 2021. Credit: Sotheby’s

While the auctioneer’s official estimate predicts a sale price “in excess of $80 million,” head of Sotheby’s Old Master painting department, Christopher Apostle, said over email that it could “very well be the next painting to surpass the rarified $100 million threshold.” In doing so, “Young Man Holding a Roundel” would become the first painting to achieve a nine-figure sum at auction since Claude Monet’s “Haystacks,” which fetched over $110 million at Sotheby’s New York last year.

“This painting is not just the greatest Botticelli in private hands but is to be considered amongst the finest Renaissance paintings in private ownership,” Apostle said, adding: “There will likely not be an opportunity to acquire a Renaissance painting of such importance and beauty for many years, if at all.”

How do art auctions really work?

The ‘quintessential Renaissance man’

Botticelli, who is best known for masterpieces “The Birth of Venus” and “Primavera,” was celebrated during his lifetime and is considered a key figure in the Western art tradition. According to Sotheby’s, only a dozen or so of his portraits have survived, with almost all of them now found in museum collections.

“It has a very modern feel, largely thanks to its astonishing condition and setting,” Apostle said, “and (it) depicts the quintessential Renaissance man.”

Unusually, Botticelli incorporated the work of an another artist into the portrait. The tiny roundel held by his subject is, in fact, a small 14th-century painting, attributed to the Sienese painter Bartolomeo Bulgarini, that he integrated into the panel.

"The Birth of Venus" pictured on display at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence in 2016.

“The Birth of Venus” pictured on display at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence in 2016. Credit: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images

Works by Botticelli only rarely appear on the market, though they often achieve significant sums when they do. In 2013, his “Madonna and Child with Young Saint John the Baptist,” also known as “The Rockefeller Madonna,” fetched $10.4 million at Christie’s in New York.
Despite the difficulties posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, which led many top auction houses to furlough staff and cancel sales, Apostle expressed optimism about Sotheby’s January auction series. He said the top end of the art market has remained “bullish.”

“Both Sotheby’s and the consignor (the painting’s seller) believe that the art market has showed tremendous resilience in the past few months, and there continues to be very strong competition for works of the highest rarity and quality,” he added. “We feel encouraged by our conversations with collectors around the world, as well as the strong results achieved in recent months.”