"Young Man Holding a Roundel," one of only a dozen of Sandro Botticelli's portraits known to have survived, has set a world record for any work by the Italian artist.

A worker at Sotheby's auctions takes Sandro Botticelli's
A worker at Sotheby's auctions takes Sandro Botticelli's "Young Man Holding a Roundel" from the wall during a preview where it is expected to fetch in excess of $80 million in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, US, on January 22, 2021. (Reuters)

A portrait by Italian renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli has been sold for $92 million at a Sotheby's auction in New York, smashing the record price for the artist.

"Young Man Holding a Roundel," believed to have been painted in the 1470s or 1480s, is considered one of Botticelli's finest portraits and is the highlight of Sotheby's Masters Week sale on Thursday.

"This Botticelli is so much more spectacular in every way than anything we've seen coming to the market," Christopher Apostle, Sotheby's senior vice president said ahead of the auction.

The 58-centimetre by 39-centimetre (23-inch by 15.5-inch) painting shows a man in his late teenage years with long golden hair sitting holding a disc featuring a bearded saint.

The roundel, which depicts the saint with his right hand raised, is an original 14th-century artwork attributed to Sienese painter Bartolommeo Bulgarini.

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A Renaissance masterpiece

Art historians suspect the Botticelli depicts a nobleman proudly showing off the earlier artwork.

"This image symbolises and exemplifies the Renaissance in Florence. We haven't seen anything like it in my lifetime," said Apostle, describing it as "a masterpiece."

Sotheby's said the final price, including fees and commissions, was $92.2 million after it sold under the hammer for $80 million.

The price establishes the work as one of the most significant portraits to have ever sold at auction.

The sale ranks alongside Gustav Klimt's "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II," which sold for $87.9 million in 2006 and Vincent Van Gogh's "Portrait of Dr Gachet," which fetched $82.5 million in 1990.

The previous record for a Botticelli was set in 2013 when "Madonna and Child with Young Saint John the Baptist" sold for $10.4 million.

"Young Man Holding a Roundel" was handed down through several generations of an aristocratic family in Wales for around 200 years.

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'Groundbreaking artist'

Art scholars were unaware of the painting's existence until it first appeared on the market in the early 20th century.

It has spent much of the last 40 years on public display since its current owner acquired it for $1.1 million at 2021 rates (just 810,000 pounds in 1982).

It has appeared at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery in London and elsewhere.

The auction house said "Young Man Holding a Roundel" is as significant as Botticelli's "Portrait of a Man with a Medal of Cosimo the Elder" and "Portrait of Giuliano de Medici."

Botticelli, who lived from the 1440s to 1510, is one of the most celebrated painters of the early Renaissance period, but only about a dozen examples of his work survive today.

His best-known works are "The Birth of Venus" and "Primavera."

"I think we underestimate how groundbreaking he was," said Apostle.

The Sotheby's sale, which was virtual, was also due to sell Rembrandt's "Abraham and the Angels" for up to $30 million but it was withdrawn shortly before the auction. 

It has been in private collections for 150 years and last sold at auction in 1848, for a mere $64.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies