Botticelli masterpiece sells for £67million at auction

Rare 15th-century portrait by Italian renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli sells for £67m – a record for the artist – at online Sotheby’s auction

  • Young Man Holding a Roundel from 1470s or 1480s, is one of Botticelli’s finest
  • A buyer through London beat New York bidders to get 23-inch by 15.5-inch piece
  • It shows a man in his late teenage years with long golden hair sitting with a disc

A portrait by Italian renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli has sold for £67million at an online Sotheby’s auction – smashing the record price for the artist.

Young Man Holding a Roundel, painted in the 1470s or 1480s, is considered one of Botticelli’s finest pieces and was the highlight of Sotheby’s Masters Week sale.

A buyer operating through London beat New York bidders in acquiring the 23-inch by 15.5-inch painting.

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

Young Man Holding a Roundel, painted in the 1470s or 1480s, is considered one of Botticelli’s finest pieces and was the highlight of Sotheby’s Masters Week sale

The piece 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.

Christopher Apostle, Sotheby’s senior vice president, said: ‘This image symbolises and exemplifies the Renaissance in Florence.

‘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 pandemic, saw fierce bidding between Sotheby’s representatives in New York and London, with a buyer directing orders through London winning.

Sotheby’s said the final price, including fees and commissions, was £67million after it sold under the hammer for £58million.

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 £327million at a Christie’s sale in 2017.

Thursday’s price ranks alongside Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, which sold for £64million in 2006 and Vincent Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr Gachet, which fetched £59million in 1990.

A buyer operating through London beat New York bidders in acquiring the 23-inch by 15.5-inch painting

It is also the highest auction sale for a work of art in almost two years since Claude Monet’s Grainstacks, sold for £80million 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 £7million.

‘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.

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

Apostle said: ‘I think we underestimate how groundbreaking he was.’

The Sotheby’s sale was also due to sell Rembrandt’s ‘Abraham and the Angels’ for up to £22million 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 £47.

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