Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Medallion - Sandro Botticelli
It is part of the magic of certain images that they transport the audience, like in a time machine, directly to the place and time they were made. In the case of Botticelli's portrait, Young Man Holding a Medallion, painted around 1480, the place is Florence and the time is that vibrant early Renaissance era associated with Lorenzo de' Medici, or Lorenzo the Magnificent, as his contemporaries called him. Botticelli's painting is so deeply imbued with the spirit of 15th century Florence that it could not have been painted anywhere else.
When we talk about the early Renaissance, great masters surely come to mind, but especially the Florentine painter Sandro Botticelli, whose first name is Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi. His magnificent paintings made at the end of the 15th century were the cause of many of the wealthiest patrons in all of Europe buying his work. His paintings foretold future techniques that would be used by the next great masters like Leonardo da Vinci. His religious work was especially adored by the Catholic Church, in addition to painting many other subjects for other audiences, he showed that as an artist he was also skillful, incredibly versatile.
No other painter of the time manages to evoke so strongly the golden age of the Florentine Renaissance. His Birth Of Venus and Allegory Of Spring are among the most famous works of the ancient world. Its nymphs, goddesses, Madonnas and saints transport us to the renaissance of science, art and literature that took place in a place that is considered the beginning of the world of modern art.
Understanding many of the theories about his work helps us try to understand why some of his works survived and others did not, helps to contextualize why Sandro Botticelli's work is valued. Precisely in January 2021 one of his most important portraits will be auctioned , the Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Medallion , a work that constitutes one of the most important portraits ever sold at auction.
It was in early Renaissance Italy that portraits of noble figures came to be considered high art. The Florentine master Sandro Botticelli was at the forefront of this transformation, depicting his subjects in the second half of the fifteenth century with a candor and insight never before seen.
Portraying single individuals was fashionable at the time. This trend had its origin in Northern Europe, created by the great Flemish masters.
Botticelli's Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Medallion is the representation of the magic and beauty of the Renaissance period in Florence, it was the first time that the individual played such an important role since ancient times and was placed in the center of life and art, which would end up defining our understanding of humanism as we know it today. Botticelli was always at the forefront of this movement and thanks to his revolutionary style he became one of the first artists to abandon the style of the time which consisted of painting models in profile at that time.
Botticelli painted the Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Medallion between the late 1470s and early 1480s, according to a claim by Sotheby's auction house.
The Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Medallion is recorded in the collection of Lord Newborough at Caernarfon, Wales, in the 1930s. It is believed to have been acquired by his ancestor Sir Thomas Wynn, the first Lord Newborough, when he was living in Tuscany. It seems that he was in a room unknown to the world, without his importance being recognized. It was bought by a person who sold it to a private collector, whose heirs sold it at auction to the current owner in 1982 for just £810,000. In the last 50 years it has been loaned to the National Gallery in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Städel Museum in Frankfurt.
There is a very marked characteristic in this painting by Botticelli, and that is that it is considered timeless, since it is modern, has very striking colors and a graphic line.
This portrait differs from any other portrait of the time in the way Botticelli painted his model holding a small circle, a small piece of a completely different painting.
This unusual addition to the work has been studied by scholars for many decades. Carefully placed on the canvas, the small work depicts an elderly, long-bearded saint framed against a gold background.
The question would be when and why the medallion was added. Stapleford argued in his 1987 study that the medallion is "original to the painting". But art historian Keith Christiansen suggested that the round was a "modern addition" that replaced a damaged stucco relief. As Brown told The Guardian, some scholars have argued that the inclusion of the holy elder is meant to highlight the sitter's relative youth and beauty.
The figure in the medallion is an original work from the 14th century, most researchers attribute it to the Sienese painter Bartolommeo Bulgarini, who was active a century before Botticelli painted his portrait. The meaning of this striking device must be related in some way to the identity of the handsome young nobleman who displays it with such pride.
Scholars speculate and contradict who the portrait depicts, but there is a version, albeit with little evidence, that the man is Giovanni di Pierfrancesco de' Medici, whose second cousin Lorenzo the Magnificent was one of the most powerful and important people. who supported the painter. Botticelli went to great lengths to portray the young man as the pinnacle of Renaissance ideals of beauty. X-ray studies of the painting show that the artist carefully traced the features of the man into the underlying drawings, as well as revising various aspects of the painting.
We don't know the identity of the model for sure, but we can speculate a bit and say that this detail was also intended to say something about him as a person. Could this have been Botticelli's way of suggesting that the young man's thoughts were directed toward God and not this world?
Perhaps Botticelli's noble models were known in the media at the time, but the truth is that many of the identities were lost over time.
Although modest and restrained, the young gentleman's clothing is clearly very fine, and his elegant and contemplative demeanor epitomizes the Neoplatonic and humanistic philosophies that defined the culture of the Florentine elite.
Botticelli's Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Medallion has the characteristics of a man who is linked to the world of books, his sharp gaze and long, thin fingers suggest it. But we can also say that it could belong to the world of the commercial company or financial banking, it is very likely that we will never know. But the fact that he had himself painted tells us that he was an upper-class Florentine, humanist, and intellectual.
Despite all that, what he really shows us is the sacred image of a saint, perhaps his holy name, which he coins as sweetly as if it were a holy relic.
This portrait possesses an intriguingly complex ideal of male beauty. It should be noted that when Botticelli painted this picture, the experience of seeing his own figure was extremely unknown to most people. Mirrors were very rare artifacts, so the idea of having your own image was starting to gain momentum. Early Renaissance portraits of men tended to emphasize power rather than beauty: sitters were painted more rugged than attractive.
Botticelli's young man is revolutionary, because he was admired in his time, and is so today for his beauty and not for his rudeness.
But the most acclaimed thing about him, despite his impeccable hair, fair complexion, carved nose, pursed lips, and thin, forceful chin, is the air of self-control in his eyes. As if to highlight, Botticelli's model departs from the Renaissance models, who posed in profile, now the Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Medallion looks us straight in the eye.
This new style would soon become a Renaissance convention: Leonardo da Vinci adopted it when he painted the most famous portrait of him (the most famous portrait in the world), the Mona Lisa , around 1503-17.
Portraits are one of the most valuable treasures that art has, they are expressions created by the old masters to highlight the importance of the human being, who have managed to immortalize many.
Our young man turns 550 today, but it looks like he may have entered our galleries this morning; It is a true beauty for all ages. It is a painting that transcends the normal limits of the genre of the old masters and is one of the best preserved and most exquisite classic Renaissance portraits in the art world.
Now let us pause to admire this impressive famous painting.
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