Art collectors have a thing for Renaissance portraits, as the recent record-breaking sale of Botticelli's "Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Roundel" shows. Sotheby's is now hoping that Piero del Pollaiuolo's "Portrait of a Youth" will have a similar fate, when it goes under the hammer in March during the house's London "Evening Sale."
This tempera and oil on panel, depicting a young male sitter set against a blue sky background, is heralded as the only known portrait by Pollaiuolo left in private hands. Most of them are in the collection of prominent museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
According to Art Market Monitor, it was once held in the same collection as Botticelli's "Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Roundel," which fetched $92.2 million in late January at Sotheby's New York. The auction house reportedly considered to offer the two portraits at the same time, although the consignor of the Botticelli had insisted that no other Florentine Renaissance painting be offered during the same auction.
Pollaiuolo's "Portrait of a Youth" is now expected to sell for between £4 million and £6 million (around $5.6 million and $8,3 million). These estimates are far beyond the Italian master's current record price of $1.4 million, which was set in 2012 when "Portrait of a Young Man, Head and Shoulders, Wearing a Cap" was acquired by the Getty Museum at Sotheby's New York.
"At the auction, the bidding moved slowly, and there was much interest in the drawing with at least four different telephone bidders active. But in the end we prevailed. Success! My heart leapt, although I could scarcely believe it was happening," recalled Julian Brooks, the Getty's head of the Department of Drawings, in the website of the Los Angeles museum.
"A rare surviving work"
Like the drawing purchased by the Getty, "Portrait of a Youth" illustrates the sea change that occurred in the art of portraiture during the Renaissance, as the sitter posed frontally. A characteristic that pushed the Art Council England to review the portrait in November, in order to determine its national importance for the UK.
"Piero del Pollaiuolo's 'Portrait of a Young Man' is a rare surviving work that exemplifies an important but often overlooked moment in the development of Florentine portraiture, painted by one of the leading artists of this generation .... There are few pictures of this kind and of this moment in British collections. The export of this work would be lamentable for the full representation of Florentine 15th-century portraits, at a critical moment for the history of European portraiture," experts declared in a statement to the Secretary of State.
Despite the Art Council England's objections, the painting was approved for export and will be sold on March 25 alongside pieces by David Hockney, Wassily Kadinsky and Edvard Munch.