Art and Culture

A Rare Botticelli Portrait Could Fetch $80 Million in Sotheby's Auction

Botticelli is most famous for "Birth of Venus," which portrays the Roman goddess emerging from a seashell

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  • An ultra-rare portrait by the famed Italian painter Sandro Botticelli, called "Young Man Holding a Roundel," could fetch $80 million or more when it comes up for sale at Sotheby's on Thursday.
  • The auction marks the first big test of the art market this year.
  • A successful auction could boost the reputation and prices for Old Master paintings.

An ultra-rare portrait by the famed Italian painter Sandro Botticelli could fetch $80 million or more when it comes up for sale at Sotheby's on Thursday.

The auction marks the first big test of the art market this year, as well as the willingness of global collectors to pay eight or nine figures for trophy works during the health crisis and market volatility. If it does well, it may help boost the reputation and prices for Old Master paintings at a time when most of big money in the art world is chasing newer, flashier works from post-war and contemporary artists.

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"There is an engaged global audience and interest in this painting," said Charles Stewart, CEO of Sotheby's.

The Botticelli painting, called "Young Man Holding a Roundel," is believed to have been painted around 1480. It is one of about a dozen portraits attributed to Botticelli and one of only a handful in private hands.

The seller is reported to be the estate of the late property billionaire Sheldon Solow, who bought the piece in 1982 for $1.2 million.

To market the work during the pandemic, Sotheby's displayed the painting around the world to collectors and potential bidders.

"The young man in the painting has done more travel during Covid than probably anybody we know," Stewart said.

Botticelli is most famous for "Birth of Venus," which portrays the Roman goddess emerging from a seashell. The previous record for his work was the 2013 sale of "Madonna and Child with Young Saint John the Baptist" for $10.4 million.

The work will be part of Sotheby's "Master Paintings & Sculpture" sale on Thursday.

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