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Sandro Botticelli, Portrait of a Young Man

Key facts
Full title Portrait of a Young Man
Artist Sandro Botticelli
Artist dates about 1445 - 1510
Date made probably about 1480-5
Medium and support Tempera and oil on wood
Dimensions 37.5 × 28.3 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1859
Inventory number NG626
Location Room 27
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Portrait of a Young Man
Sandro Botticelli

This apparently simple portrait of a young man was revolutionary in Italian painting. Until this moment, artists painted people either in profile view, so only half their face was visible, or by turning them three-quarters to face the viewer.

Here, Botticelli paints the boy head on, mapping his whole face – the fleshy nose, dimpled cheeks, warm brown eyes and determined, protruding chin. Images of the whole face were usually reserved for so-called ‘portraits’ of Christ used for private prayer; showing a young man in such a way was radical.

The boy is dressed simply in brown, his dark blond curls escaping from beneath his red cap. His features are individual but his overall look resembles Botticelli’s idealised males, particularly Mars in his painting Venus and Mars, also in the National Gallery’s collection. Renaissance portraits often beautified their subjects because outward beauty was supposed to reflect inner virtue: the portrait was an eternal witness to the person’s soul as well as their appearance.

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