A sterling 550-year-old portrait by the Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli that was the star lot of Sotheby’s Old Masters sale has sold for $92.2 million, making it the second-most-expensive Old Master artwork to sell at auction, according to the company.
The artwork, Young Man Holding a Roundel (circa 1444/5–1510), is one of only three portraits by Botticelli left in private hands. It led the first part of Sotheby’s Master paintings sale in New York on January 28.
After back-and-forth bids between Sotheby’s representatives in New York and London, the painting cruised passed its $80 million estimate and landed, finally, in the hands of an unnamed Asian collector. (Pre-sale estimates do not include premiums; final prices do.)
The sale marked the highest price ever achieved by an Old Master at the auction house, and shattered the artist’s previous auction record of $10.4 million, paid for Madonna and Child with Young Saint John the Baptist at Christie’s in January 2013.
“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,” Christopher Apostle, head of Sotheby’s Old Masters paintings department, said in a statement. “Today’s result is a fitting tribute, both to the painting itself and all that it represents.”
“Now we really do know the price of beauty,” added George Wachter, co-chairman of Old Master Paintings worldwide.
In early Renaissance Italy, Botticelli was instrumental in legitimizing portraiture as a form of high art, and Young Man Holding a Roundel epitomizes his innovations in the genre. It shows an unidentified figure, backlit and framed by a window, gazing directly back at the viewer. He holds a round disc bearing a real-life portrait of a saint—a painterly device scholars are still attempting to decode.
“It is in his portraits… that Botticelli most clearly opens a window onto the world of Renaissance Florence,” Apostle said prior to the sale. “Never more so than in Young Man Holding a Roundel, a painting that encapsulates the intellectual, courtly, and humanistic virtues that define the Italian Renaissance.”
Young Man Holding a Roundel was consigned by New York real estate tycoon Sheldon Solow, who purchased it at auction at Christie’s in London in 1982 for £810,000 ($1.1 million).
Over the past five decades, it has been on view at the National Gallery, London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Prior to Thursday’s sale, the painting went on world tour, making stops at Sotheby’s branches in London, Dubai, Los Angeles, and New York.
The most expensive Old Master ever sold at auction is, of course, also the most expensive artwork period: Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which sold at Christie’s in 2017 for $450.3 million.