Rare Renaissance Portrait by Piero del Pollaiuolo Hits the Auction Block at Sotheby’s

Nazia Safi
Published on

Piero del Pollaiuolo (1443 – 1496), also known as Piero Benci, was a 15th-century Italian artist from Florence. He studied painting under Andrea del Castagno, later joining his elder brother Antonio del Pollaiuolo in goldsmithing, painting, sculpting, and engraving. The brothers ran one of the most advanced, successful, and famous studios in Florence. Their diverse skill sets placed Piero and Antonio at the forefront of Florentine Renaissance art.

A rare life-size Florentine Renaissance portrait by Piero del Pollaiuolo will hit the auction block at Sotheby’s during a cross-category Evening Sale in London. This live auction will begin at 2:00 PM EST on March 25th, 2021.

Piero del Pollaiuolo, Portrait of a Youth. Image from Sotheby’s.
Piero del Pollaiuolo, Portrait of a Youth. Image from Sotheby’s.

Titled Portrait of a Youth, this tempera and oil on panel painting shows a young man with refined features gazing at the viewer. He is set against a blue sky background. He wears a red high-collar shirt and a blue vest. This is the only known portrait by the artist still in private hands. It formerly belonged to Thomas Ralph Merton (1888-1969), the first scientist to work in the British Secret Intelligence Service. The presale estimate for the painting is USD 5,500,000 to $8,200,000.

Pollaiuolo’s works reflect classical influences and interest in human anatomy. Together with his brother Antonio, Piero reportedly carried out dissections to improve his craft. These innovative techniques put the brothers at the forefront in Florentine portraiture in the late 15th century. “In Renaissance Florence,” Sotheby’s Head of Research for Old Master Paintings, Cecilia Treves, said in a statement, “the brothers Piero and Antonio del Pollaiolo introduced important innovations through multiple forms of art, not least portraiture, bringing their workshop to rival that of Andrea del Verrocchio in importance and prestige.”

Piero del Pollaiuolo, Portrait of a Youth. Image from Sotheby’s.
Piero del Pollaiuolo, Portrait of a Youth. Image from Sotheby’s.

Though Piero and Antonio collaborated on almost all projects, Piero del Pollaiuolo also worked independently on various commissions. He established himself as a sought-after painter of public works and accepted private requests from the Florentine elite. Among his most prestigious works were six paintings dedicated to the Virtues. Pollaiuolo painted the Virtues for the Audience Chamber in the Tribunale di Mercanzia, Florence in 1469. Uffizi Galleries acquired the paintings in 1777.

Very few works by Piero del Pollaiuolo are in private hands. Almost all of the artist’s major pieces are held by Italian and international museums. Portrait of a Youth is the first portrait by the artist offered by Sotheby’s since 2012, when the Getty Museum bought Pollaiuolo’s Portrait of a Young Man for $1,400,000 against the high estimate of $400,000.

Piero del Pollaiuolo, Portrait of a Young Man, 1460s-70s. Image from Sotheby’s.
Piero del Pollaiuolo, Portrait of a Young Man, 1460s-70s. Image from Sotheby’s.

Live bidding for Piero del Pollaiuolo’s Portrait of a Youth will begin at 2:00 PM EST on March 25th, 2021. Interested collectors can visit Sotheby’s for more information or to place a bid.

Interested in Old Masters auctions? Read Auction Daily’s coverage of Freeman’s upcoming European art and Old Masters sale.