Sandro Botticelli

Sandro Botticelli

Overview
Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, better known as Sandro Botticelli (ˈsandro botːiˈtʃɛlːi) (c. 1445 – May 17, 1510) was an Italian painter of the Early Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

. He belonged to the Florentine school
Florentine School
The Florentine School refers to artists in, from or influenced by the naturalistic style developed in the 14th century, largely through the efforts of Giotto di Bondone, and in the 15th century the leading school of the world...

 under the patronage of Lorenzo de' Medici
Lorenzo de' Medici
Lorenzo de' Medici was an Italian statesman and de facto ruler of the Florentine Republic during the Italian Renaissance. Known as Lorenzo the Magnificent by contemporary Florentines, he was a diplomat, politician and patron of scholars, artists and poets...

, a movement that Giorgio Vasari
Giorgio Vasari
Giorgio Vasari was an Italian painter, writer, historian, and architect, who is famous today for his biographies of Italian artists, considered the ideological foundation of art-historical writing.-Biography:...

 would characterize less than a hundred years later as a "golden age
Golden Age
The term Golden Age comes from Greek mythology and legend and refers to the first in a sequence of four or five Ages of Man, in which the Golden Age is first, followed in sequence, by the Silver, Bronze, and Iron Ages, and then the present, a period of decline...

", a thought, suitably enough, he expressed at the head of his Vita of Botticelli. Botticelli's posthumous reputation suffered until the late 19th century; since then his work has been seen to represent the linear grace of Early Renaissance painting.
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Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, better known as Sandro Botticelli (ˈsandro botːiˈtʃɛlːi) (c. 1445 – May 17, 1510) was an Italian painter of the Early Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

. He belonged to the Florentine school
Florentine School
The Florentine School refers to artists in, from or influenced by the naturalistic style developed in the 14th century, largely through the efforts of Giotto di Bondone, and in the 15th century the leading school of the world...

 under the patronage of Lorenzo de' Medici
Lorenzo de' Medici
Lorenzo de' Medici was an Italian statesman and de facto ruler of the Florentine Republic during the Italian Renaissance. Known as Lorenzo the Magnificent by contemporary Florentines, he was a diplomat, politician and patron of scholars, artists and poets...

, a movement that Giorgio Vasari
Giorgio Vasari
Giorgio Vasari was an Italian painter, writer, historian, and architect, who is famous today for his biographies of Italian artists, considered the ideological foundation of art-historical writing.-Biography:...

 would characterize less than a hundred years later as a "golden age
Golden Age
The term Golden Age comes from Greek mythology and legend and refers to the first in a sequence of four or five Ages of Man, in which the Golden Age is first, followed in sequence, by the Silver, Bronze, and Iron Ages, and then the present, a period of decline...

", a thought, suitably enough, he expressed at the head of his Vita of Botticelli. Botticelli's posthumous reputation suffered until the late 19th century; since then his work has been seen to represent the linear grace of Early Renaissance painting. Among his best known works are The Birth of Venus
The Birth of Venus (Botticelli)
The Birth of Venus is a painting by Sandro Botticelli. It depicts the goddess Venus, having emerged from the sea as a fully grown woman, arriving at the sea-shore...

and Primavera
Primavera (painting)
Primavera, also known as Allegory of Spring, is a tempera panel painting by Italian Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli. Painted ca. 1482, the painting is described in Culture & Values as "[o]ne of the most popular paintings in Western art"...

.

Early life


Details of Botticelli's life are sparse, but it is known that he became an apprentice when he was about fourteen years old, which would indicate that he received a fuller education than the other Renaissance artists. He was born in the city of Florence
Florence
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area....

 in a house in the Via Nuova, Borg'Ognissanti. Vasari reported that he was initially trained as a goldsmith by his brother Antonio. Probably by 1462 he was apprenticed to Fra Filippo Lippi
Filippo Lippi
Fra' Filippo Lippi , also called Lippo Lippi, was an Italian painter of the Italian Quattrocento .-Biography and works:...

; many of his early works have been attributed to the elder master, and attributions continue to be uncertain. Influenced also by the monumentality of Masaccio
Masaccio
Masaccio , born Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone, was the first great painter of the Quattrocento period of the Italian Renaissance. According to Vasari, Masaccio was the best painter of his generation because of his skill at recreating lifelike figures and movements as well as a convincing sense...

's painting, it was from Lippi that Botticelli learned a more intimate and detailed manner. As recently discovered, during this time, Botticelli could have traveled to Hungary
Hungary
Hungary , officially the Republic of Hungary , is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. The...

, participating in the creation of a fresco in Esztergom
Esztergom
Esztergom , is a city in northern Hungary, 46 km north-west of the capital Budapest. It lies in Komárom-Esztergom county, on the right bank of the river Danube, which forms the border with Slovakia there....

, ordered in the workshop of Filippo Lippi by János Vitéz
János Vitéz (archbishop)
János Vitéz was the Hungarian archbishop of Esztergom and a prominent humanist, diplomat, Latinist, mathematician, astrologist and astronomer....

, then archbishop
Archbishop
An archbishop is a bishop of higher rank, but not of higher sacramental order above that of the three orders of deacon, priest , and bishop...

 of Hungary.

By 1470, Botticelli had his own workshop. Even at this early date his work was characterized by a conception of the figure as if seen in low relief, drawn with clear contours, and minimizing strong contrasts of light and shadow which would indicate fully modeled forms.

Maturity


The Adoration of the Magi for Santa Maria Novella (c. 1475-1476, now at the Uffizi
Uffizi
The Uffizi Gallery , is a museum in Florence, Italy. It is one of the oldest and most famous art museums of the Western world.-History:...

) contains the portraits of Cosimo de' Medici
Cosimo de' Medici
Còsimo di Giovanni degli Mèdici was the first of the Medici political dynasty, de facto rulers of Florence during much of the Italian Renaissance; also known as "Cosimo 'the Elder'" and "Cosimo Pater Patriae" .-Biography:Born in Florence, Cosimo inherited both his wealth and his expertise in...

 ("the finest of all that are now extant for its life and vigour"), his grandson Giuliano de' Medici
Giuliano di Piero de' Medici
Giuliano de' Medici was the second son of Piero de' Medici and Lucrezia Tornabuoni. As co-ruler of Florence, with his brother Lorenzo the Magnificent, he complemented his brother's image as the "patron of the arts" with his own image as the handsome, sporting, "golden boy."-Death:As the opening...

, and Cosimo's son Giovanni
Giovanni di Cosimo de' Medici
Giovanni de' Medici was an Italian banker and patron of arts.Born in Florence, he was the son of Cosimo de' Medici the Elder and Contessina de' Bardi, and brother to Piero the Gouty....

. The quality of the scene was hailed by Vasari as one of Botticelli's pinnacles.



In 1481, Pope Sixtus IV
Pope Sixtus IV
Pope Sixtus IV , born Francesco della Rovere, was Pope from 1471 to 1484. His accomplishments as Pope included the establishment of the Sistine Chapel; the group of artists that he brought together introduced the Early Renaissance into Rome with the first masterpiece of the city's new artistic age,...

 summoned Botticelli and other prominent Florentine and Umbrian artists to fresco the walls of the Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel is the best-known chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope in Vatican City. It is famous for its architecture and its decoration that was frescoed throughout by Renaissance artists including Michelangelo, Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio...

. The iconological program was the supremacy of the Papacy. Sandro's contribution included the Temptations of Christ
Temptations of Christ (Botticelli)
The Temptations of Christ is a fresco by the Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli, executed in 1480–1482 and located in the Sistine Chapel, Rome.-History:...

, the Punishment of the Rebels
Punishment of the Rebels
The Punishment of the Rebels is a fresco by the Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli, executed in 1480-1482 and located in the Sistine Chapel, Rome.-History:...

and Trial of Moses.
He returned to Florence, and "being of a sophistical turn of mind, he there wrote a commentary on a portion of Dante
Dante Alighieri
Durante degli Alighieri, mononymously referred to as Dante , was an Italian poet, prose writer, literary theorist, moral philosopher, and political thinker. He is best known for the monumental epic poem La commedia, later named La divina commedia ...

 and illustrated the Inferno which he printed, spending much time over it, and this abstention from work led to serious disorders in his living." Thus Vasari characterized the first printed Dante
Dante Alighieri
Durante degli Alighieri, mononymously referred to as Dante , was an Italian poet, prose writer, literary theorist, moral philosopher, and political thinker. He is best known for the monumental epic poem La commedia, later named La divina commedia ...

 (1481) with Botticelli's decorations; he could not imagine that the new art of printing
Printing
Printing is a process for reproducing text and image, typically with ink on paper using a printing press. It is often carried out as a large-scale industrial process, and is an essential part of publishing and transaction printing....

 might occupy an artist.

The masterpieces Primavera
Primavera (painting)
Primavera, also known as Allegory of Spring, is a tempera panel painting by Italian Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli. Painted ca. 1482, the painting is described in Culture & Values as "[o]ne of the most popular paintings in Western art"...

(c. 1482) and The Birth of Venus
The Birth of Venus (Botticelli)
The Birth of Venus is a painting by Sandro Botticelli. It depicts the goddess Venus, having emerged from the sea as a fully grown woman, arriving at the sea-shore...

(c. 1485) were both seen by Vasari at the villa of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici at Castello in the mid-16th century, and until recently, it was assumed that both works were painted specifically for the villa. Recent scholarship suggests otherwise: the Primavera was painted for Lorenzo's townhouse in Florence, and The Birth of Venus was commissioned by someone else for a different site. By 1499, both had been installed at Castello.

In these works, the influence of Gothic
Gothic art
Gothic art was a Medieval art movement that developed in France out of Romanesque art in the mid-12th century, led by the concurrent development of Gothic architecture. It spread to all of Western Europe, but took over art more completely north of the Alps, never quite effacing more classical...

 realism is tempered by Botticelli's study of the antique. But if the painterly means may be understood, the subjects themselves remain fascinating for their ambiguity. The complex meanings of these paintings continue to receive widespread scholarly attention, mainly focusing on the poetry and philosophy of humanists who were the artist's contemporaries. The works do not illustrate particular texts; rather, each relies upon several texts for its significance. Of their beauty, characterized by Vasari as exemplifying "grace" and by John Ruskin
John Ruskin
John Ruskin was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, also an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist. He wrote on subjects ranging from geology to architecture, myth to ornithology, literature to education, and botany to political...

 as possessing linear rhythm, there can be no doubt.

In the mid-1480s Botticelli worked on a major fresco cycle with Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio
Domenico Ghirlandaio
Domenico Ghirlandaio was an Italian Renaissance painter from Florence. Among his many apprentices was Michelangelo.-Early years:Ghirlandaio's full name is given as Domenico di Tommaso di Currado di Doffo Bigordi...

 and Filippino Lippi
Filippino Lippi
Filippino Lippi was an Italian painter working during the High Renaissance in Florence, Italy.-Biography:...

, for Lorenzo the Magnificent's villa near Volterra
Volterra
Volterra, known to the ancient Etruscans as Velathri, to the Romans as Volaterrae, is a town and comune in the Tuscany region of Italy.-History:...

; in addition he painted many frescoes in Florentine churches. In 1491 he served on a committee to decide upon a façade for the Cathedral of Florence.

Influence of Savonarola


In later life, Botticelli was one of the followers of the deeply moralistic monk Savonarola who preached in Florence from 1490 until his execution in 1498, though the full extent of Savonarola's influence remains uncertain.

"The story that he burnt his own paintings on pagan themes in the notorious "Bonfire of the Vanities
Bonfire of the Vanities
Bonfire of the Vanities refers to the burning of objects that are deemed to be occasions of sin. The most infamous one took place on 7 February 1497, when supporters of the Dominican priest Girolamo Savonarola collected and publicly burned thousands of objects like cosmetics, art, and books in...

" is not told by Vasari, who nevertheless asserts that of the sect of Savonarola "he was so ardent a partisan that he was thereby induced to desert his painting, and, having no income to live on, fell into very great distress. For this reason, persisting in his attachment to that party, and becoming a Piagnone he abandoned his work." Botticelli biographer Ernst Steinmann searched for the artist's psychological development through his Madonnas. In the "deepening of insight and expression in the rendering of Mary's physiognomy", Steinmann discerned proof of Savonarola's influence over Botticelli. (In Steinmann's work the dates of a number of Madonnas were placed at a later point in the artist's life). Steinmann disagreed with Vasari's assertion that Botticelli produced nothing after coming under the influence of Girolamo Savonarola believing rather that the spiritual and emotional Virgins painted by Sandro followed directly from the teachings of the Dominican monk.

Death and posthumous eclipse


Botticelli was already little employed in 1502. In 1504 he was a member of the committee appointed to decide where Michelangelo
Michelangelo
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni , commonly known as Michelangelo, was an Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, poet, and engineer who exerted an unparalleled influence on the development of Western art...

's David
David (Michelangelo)
David is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture created between 1501 and 1504, by the Italian artist Michelangelo. It is a marble statue of a standing male nude. The statue represents the Biblical hero David, a favoured subject in the art of Florence...

 would be placed. His later work, especially as seen in a series on the life of St. Zenobius, witnessed a diminution of scale, expressively distorted figures, and a non-naturalistic use of colour reminiscent of the work of Fra Angelico
Fra Angelico
Fra Angelico , born Guido di Pietro, was an Early Italian Renaissance painter described by Vasari in his Lives of the Artists as having "a rare and perfect talent"...

 nearly a century earlier. After his death his reputation was eclipsed longer and more thoroughly than that of any other major European artist. His paintings remained in the churches and villas for which they had been created, his frescoes in the Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel is the best-known chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope in Vatican City. It is famous for its architecture and its decoration that was frescoed throughout by Renaissance artists including Michelangelo, Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio...

 upstaged by Michelangelo's. British collector William Young Ottley
William Young Ottley
William Young Ottley was an English collector of and writer on art, amateur artist, and keeper of prints at the British Museum. He was an early English enthusiast for 14th- and 15th-century Italian art, or the "Italian Primitives" as they were then often called.-Life:He was born near Thatcham,...

, however, had brought Botticelli's The Mystical Nativity
The Mystical Nativity (Botticelli)
The Mystical Nativity is a painting of circa 1500–1501 by the Italian Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli, in the National Gallery in London. Botticelli built up the image using oil paint on canvas...

 to London with him in 1799 after buying it in Italy. After Ottley's death its next purchaser, William Fuller-Maitland of Stansted, allowed it to be exhibited in a major art exhibition held in Manchester
Manchester
Manchester is a city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England. According to the Office for National Statistics, the 2010 mid-year population estimate for Manchester was 498,800. Manchester lies within one of the UK's largest metropolitan areas, the metropolitan county of Greater...

 in 1857, The Art Treasures Exhibition, where amongst many other art works it was viewed by more than a million people. The first nineteenth century art historian to have looked with satisfaction at Botticelli's Sistine frescoes was Alexis-François Rio
Alexis-François Rio
Alexis-François Rio was a French writer on art. Without any strict method or criticism, he expressed preference for the art of the 15th century...

. Rio, Anna Brownell Jameson
Anna Brownell Jameson
Anna Brownell Jameson was a British writer.-Biography:Jameson was born in Dublin.Her father, Denis Brownell Murphy , was a miniature and enamel painter...

 and Charles Eastlake
Charles Eastlake
Charles Locke Eastlake was a British architect and furniture designer. Trained by the architect Philip Hardwick , he popularised William Morris's notions of decorative arts in the Arts and Crafts style, becoming one of the principal exponents of the revived Early English or Modern Gothic style...

 were alerted to Botticelli, works by his hand began to appear in German collections, and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti...

 incorporated elements of his work into their own. Walter Pater
Walter Pater
Walter Horatio Pater was an English essayist, critic of art and literature, and writer of fiction.-Early life:...

 created a literary picture of Botticelli, who was then taken up by the Aesthetic movement. The first monograph on the artist was published in 1893; then, between 1900 and 1920 more books were written on Botticelli than any other painter.

Private life


Botticelli never wed, and expressed a strong aversion to the idea of marriage, a prospect he claimed gave him nightmares.

The popular view is that he suffered from unrequited love for Simonetta Vespucci
Simonetta Vespucci
Simonetta Cattaneo de Candia Vespucci, nicknamed la bella Simonetta was an Italian Renaissance noblewoman from Genoa, the wife of Marco Vespucci of Florence. She also is alleged to have been the mistress of Giuliano de' Medici, Lorenzo the Magnificent's younger brother...

, a married noblewoman. According to legend, she had served as the model for The Birth of Venus
The Birth of Venus (Botticelli)
The Birth of Venus is a painting by Sandro Botticelli. It depicts the goddess Venus, having emerged from the sea as a fully grown woman, arriving at the sea-shore...

 and recurs throughout his paintings, despite the fact that she had died years earlier, in 1476. Botticelli asked that when he die, he be buried at her feet in the Church of Ognissanti in Florence. His wish was carried out when he died some 34 years later, in 1510.

Some modern historians have also examined other aspects of his sexuality. In 1938, Jacques Mesnil discovered a summary of a charge in the Florentine Archives for November 16, 1502 which read simply "Botticelli keeps a boy", under an accusation of sodomy
Sodomy
Sodomy is an anal or other copulation-like act, especially between male persons or between a man and animal, and one who practices sodomy is a "sodomite"...

. The painter would then have been fifty-eight; the charges were eventually dropped. Mesnil dismissed it as a customary slander by which partisans and adversaries of Savonarola abused each other. Opinion remains divided on whether this is evidence of homosexuality
Homosexuality
Homosexuality is romantic or sexual attraction or behavior between members of the same sex or gender. As a sexual orientation, homosexuality refers to "an enduring pattern of or disposition to experience sexual, affectional, or romantic attractions" primarily or exclusively to people of the same...

. Many have firmly backed Mesnil, but others have cautioned against hasty dismissal of the charge. Yet while speculating on the subject of his paintings, Mesnil nevertheless concluded "woman was not the only object of his love".

See also

  • History of painting
    History of painting
    The history of painting reaches back in time to artifacts from pre-historic humans, and spans all cultures. It represents a continuous, though periodically disrupted tradition from Antiquity. Across cultures, and spanning continents and millennia, the history of painting is an ongoing river of...

  • Italian Renaissance
    Italian Renaissance
    The Italian Renaissance began the opening phase of the Renaissance, a period of great cultural change and achievement in Europe that spanned the period from the end of the 13th century to about 1600, marking the transition between Medieval and Early Modern Europe...

  • List of famous Italians
  • List of Italian painters
  • List of painters
  • Renaissance painting
  • Western painting
    Western painting
    The history of Western painting represents a continuous, though disrupted, tradition from antiquity. Until the mid-19th century it was primarily concerned with representational and Classical modes of production, after which time more modern, abstract and conceptual forms gained favor.Developments...


Sources

  • Knackfuss H., Monographs On Artists, VI. Botticelli by Ernst Steinman, Translated by Campbell Dodgson, New York, Lemcke & Huachner, 1901, Pg. 112.
  • New York Times, Life of Botticelli, November 19, 1904, Page BR783.
  • Da Vinci Declassified, 2006 TLC documentary
  • Ullman, H., Sandro Botticelli, 1893
  • Yashiro, Y., Sandro Botticelli and the Florentine Renaissance, 1929
  • Lightbown, R., Sandro Botticelli: Life and Work, 1989
  • The New Encyclopædia Britannica, Macropaedia, Volume 2, 1991, Page 413-14.

Further Reading


In his book Sandro Botticelli: Life and Work, Ronald Lightbown claims "There are only two books to attempt a catalogue raisonné of the works of Botticelli and his school" (source: page 328 of the 1989 edition). These are the two books:
  • Salvini R., Tutti la pittura del Botticelli, Milan, Rizzoli Editore, 1958 (in Italian)
  • Mandel G., Botticelli, 1969 (in English; earlier Italian [1967] and French [1968] versions exist)

External links