A proposal for Botticelli (at auction)

Jan 5, 2021 | Auctions, Authentications & attributions, Highlights

In the past century, and at the beginning of this one, dealing with Botticelli would have seemed madness”, wrote Symonds, a great scholar, specialist of the Italian Renaissance, in 1877. And in 1895, Bernard Shaw followed, among others: “Today ten acres of Carracci, Giulio Romano, Guido, Domenichino and Pietro da Cortona, would not buy an ounce of Botticelli, Lippi or Giovanni Bellini”. And in fact it was only at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that there was an abundant traffic of Botticelli’s works, at gradually increasing prices – and of course also of fakes, including documented ones by Joni.

However, original, exceptional works were also sold. For example, the Bardi family, heirs of the commissioners, sold the Santo Spirito altarpiece (Pala Bardi), now in Berlin.

Pala Bardi, Botticelli

Primitives were very popular, and people came to Tuscany to admire them, study them and buy them (the Horne museum, after all, was born this way).

And today? Botticelli are very rare in the market. Are they still so desirable? Or has taste changed?

This is what we will see on January 28 at Sotheby’s, where a very intriguing painting is auctioned. “The portrait of a young man with a roundel” is in fact per se a puzzle. Who is he? Why is he holding this small portrait cut from a more than a  century older painting?

The closest Botticelli painting we know is the “Portrait of a Young Man with a Medal” from the Uffizi. This medallion is also a “foreign body” embedded in the artwork.

Portrait of a Young Man with Medallion, Botticelli

The investigations on the work at auction (rather complete, with a dossier very similar to the one that Art–Test offers to our customers) refers of an unusual adhesive that is located at the edges of the roundel, and therefore it cannot be said with certainty that the composition we see today was originally so. Maybe he too originally had a medal in his hand?

Is it one of the Botticelli brothers who were goldsmiths, portraying their products? Was they who created the medallions with Cosimo?

In fact, the “sitter” of the Portrait of the Uffizi is also unknown. And, given the similarity with Botticelli’s self-portrait of the Pala with the Adoration of the Magi, the hypothesis of a brother has been advanced.

If it is not his brother, we have an idea. He is an ancestor of John Travolta.

Anna Pelagotti