A Sandro Botticelli portrait of a wealthy and handsome young man, described as one of the greatest Renaissance paintings remaining in private hands, is to appear at auction with an estimate of more than $80m (£63m).
“Our ‘Young Man’ is 550 years old, yet he looks like he could have strolled into our galleries this morning,” said George Wachter, Sotheby’s co-chairman of old master paintings. “He is a true beauty for the ages.”
The auction house believes it is one of the most significant portraits ever sold, up there with paintings such as Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, which sold for $87.9m in 2006 and Van Gogh’s Portrait of Doctor Gachet, which sold for $82.5m in 1990, then a world record.
Most Botticelli works are in the world’s greatest museums and only a dozen are portraits. Sotheby’s said its portrait, to be sold in New York in January, was as important as Portrait of a Man With a Medal of Cosimo il Vecchio de’ Medici in the Uffizi gallery in Florence, and Portrait of Giuliano de’ Medici at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.
The portrait, Young Man Holding a Roundel, is recorded as being in the collection of Lord Newborough at Caernarfon in Wales in the 1930s. It is believed to have been purchased by his ancestor Sir Thomas Wynn, the first Lord Newborough, while living in Tuscany.
Over the past 50 years it has had periods of extended loan to the National Gallery in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Städel Museum in Frankfurt.
Experts said the young man’s face embodied the ideals of Renaissance beauty, while his wavy, centre-parted long hair would have been the height of fashion.
The number of Botticelli paintings in the world would have been higher had the artist not fallen under the spell of the religious zealot Girolamo Savonarola. The artist burned several of his paintings in the “bonfire of the vanities” in 1497 but not, mercifully, the Birth of Venus and Primavera, two of the world’s most famous and popular paintings.
The identity of the young man is not known although the roundel – or medallion – that he holds depicting a saint probably contains as yet uncoded clues.