What is the price of beauty? According to Sotheby’s, it’s about $92.2 million with fees. That’s the price fetched at the auction house yesterday by a Botticelli portrait, the most expensive work ever sold by the Florentine Renaissance artist.
“While the price achieved is the second-highest ever for an Old Master Painting, this is a work that transcends time and categories,” said George Wachter, Sotheby’s Co-Chairman of Old Master Paintings Worldwide, in a press release. “Now we really do know the price of beauty.”
The astoundingly illusionistic “Portrait of a young man holding a roundel” hammered at $80 million, largely surpassing Botticelli’s previous record of $10.4 million but only flirting with the house’s pre-sale estimate “in excess of $80 million.” The winning offer came from Lilija Sitnika, a senior client liaison with Sotheby’s Russian Desk, who was phone bidding on behalf of the as-yet-unidentified buyer.
The real winner, however, may be the consignor: the foundation of the recently deceased billionaire Sheldon Solow, who acquired the work for just $1.3 million in 1982. According to the New York Times, the foundation is considering using the proceeds from the sale to establish a private museum in Manhattan.
The rare tempera on panel painting is one of three Botticelli portraits left in private hands and considered one of the finest. Only about a dozen such works by the 15th-century artist have survived, the bulk of them now in museum collections.
Let’s hope the work’s new owner will be generous with his new acquisition and lend it amply to public institutions, where the 550-year-old work can be seen by diverse audiences — and not just above the couch by a few elite individuals, like the one Botticelli likely represented in this very portrait.