NEW YORK CITY — One of the finest portraits ever painted by Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli sold on January 28 at Sotheby’s for a record $92.2 million. In a sale that marks the first major auction event of 2021, Botticelli’s “Young Man Holding a Roundel” saw transatlantic bidding between Sotheby’s representatives in New York and London, with the ultimate under-bidder bidding on behalf of an Asian collector. Just 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 presale interest from 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 ever sold at auction.
Christopher Apostle, head of Sotheby’s Old Masters painting department, New York, said, “This is not only an exceptional painting, 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.”
Ahead of the auction, “Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Roundel” had taken a world tour, having been exhibited in London, Dubai, Los Angeles and New York City, and attracting hundreds of admirers at every stop. (In just one day, some 300 people came to admire him in Sotheby’s gallery in Dubai, while in London, people formed an orderly, guideline-observant queue along New Bond Street).
The Botticelli now stands alongside Francis Bacon’s “Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus” as the second work to have surpassed $80 million at auction since Sotheby’s introduced the new live-streamed auction format some seven months ago. The January 28 sale also saw among 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 witnessing 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.
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