Though Botticelli is most well-known for his large tableaux paintings, Primavera and Birth of Venus, which feature various figures in natural settings, this small portrait depicts a nobleman who, though unidentified, is thought to be a member of the storied Medici family. Framed by a window in a simple blue background that appears almost abstract, the figure looks at the viewer with a directness that was unconventional for the time.
One of the most striking elements of the image is the roundel held in the hand of the young man. The image—of a bearded saint with one hand raised—is in fact a separate painting dated to the 14th century and attributed to the painter Bartolomeo Bulgarini that had been inset into the Botticelli canvas, a technique that was not common at the time.
It is “very unusual,” said Old Master dealer Robert Simon about the inserted painting. “And we really don’t know whether this was done by Botticelli or by a later owner of the painting.” He added, “There are altarpieces in which an older, especially venerated work is set into a later painting—but I cannot think of an equivalent secular work.”