The tempera on panel painting depicts a young man, seated in front of a landscape, holding a medal bearing the likeness of Florentine Cosimo de’ Medici. It is currently housed at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence along with other Botticelli masterpieces like The Adoration of the Magi which was painted soon after.
The subject gazes from the portrait in a way that engages the audience so profoundly that it is as if he might actually converse with them. Some scholars believe that Botticelli was trying to establish a new format for portraiture when he created Portrait of a Man.
Although the young subject has never been accurately identified, there has been much speculation about him. He may have been one of the young men who supported the powerful Medici family or perhaps he was one of those who betrayed them. His clothing identifies him as a member of the middle class and some have even wondered if he is Antonio Botticelli, Sandro’s brother.
One reason for this theory is the striking resemblance the man in the portrait bears to Botticelli’s self-portrait found in the detail of The Adoration of the Magi (1475 or 1476).
Certainly, the influence of the Medicis impacted Botticelli’s work. They were among the foremost patrons of the arts during his lifetime and wielded considerable influence, producing not only a vastly successful banking empire before Botticelli was born, but consolidating political power in several ways.
Three popes during the Renaissance era were members of the Medici family: Leo X, Clement VII, and Leo XI. They were the wealthiest family in Europe sometime in the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries. That a medal stamped with a picture of a member of the family was so prominently displayed in Portrait of a Man is not surprising.
While it is unknown who originally commissioned the work, it eventually became part of the collection of Carlo de’ Medici. When he died in the mid-seventeenth century, the portrait became the property of the Uffizi Gallery where it has remained ever since. Restoration of the piece took place in 1991.