Datable stylistically to about 1470, Portrait of a Young Man is one of a handful of surviving Italian portrait drawings from this early time. Paper had just begun to be widely manufactured in Italy, usually in much smaller sheets, making the large size of this drawing remarkable. The handsome young man looks outward with a fixed point of view, as if to meet the gaze of the viewer. His eyes, with their dark pupils, exert an almost magnetic power, which underscores his projection of self-assurance.
The artist used a quill pen with its nib carved to the finest possible point. Tiny lines of parallel hatching delicately articulate the fall of light over the youth's hat, eyebrows, nose, and lips. In most Italian portraits of the period, the collar buttons appear on the right of the center seam rather than on the left as seen here. This may indicate that the drawing is a mirror image–in other words, a self-portrait.
Piero del Pollaiuolo was an important early Renaissance artist in Florence known for his portraits. Some are in the old-fashioned profile format imitating coins and medals from Roman antiquity but others are more progressive, with the sitter depicted frontally and looking out at the viewer. Portrait of a Young Manresembles his paintings in this style and may in fact be by him. The scarcity of early Renaissance portraits makes it hard to pin down the artist with certainty.