"What moves men of genius, or rather what inspires their work, is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough." – Eugene Delacroix
For Art Sunday let’s look at a Renaissance painter and one that represents this period par excellence! Sandro Botticelli (born 1445, Florence and died May 17, 1510), whose real name is Alessandro Di Mariano Filipepi, one of the greatest painters of the Florentine Renaissance. The name that he is known by is derived from his elder brother Giovanni, a pawnbroker who was called Il Botticello (“The Little Barrel”). There is a biography of Botticelli’s life with insights into his character in the famous book of artists’ lives by Giorgio Vasari. Botticelli’s father was a tanner who apprenticed Sandro to a goldsmith after his schooling was finished. But since Sandro preferred painting, his father then placed him under Fra Filippo Lippi, who was one of the most admired Florentine masters.
By 1470 Botticelli was already established in Florence as an independent master with his own workshop. Absorbed in his art, he never married, and he lived with his family. About 1478–81 Botticelli entered his artistic maturity. Botticelli worked in all the genres of Florentine art: Devotional paintings for the church and nobility; historical and mythological works, allegorical works and portraits, mainly for the families of his influential patrons.
“The Adoration of the Magi” (c. 1473; National Gallery, London) displays Botticelli’s mastery of composition, colour balance, perspective and resolution of the problems imposed upon him by his patrons, who had to be included in the painting taking the part of the Magi and their retinue. On the extreme right, the young man with the long ochre gown looking at us though the centuries is Sandro Botticelli himself.
He painted altarpieces in fresco and on panel, tondi (circular paintings), panel pictures, and small devotional triptychs. Florentine tondi were often large, richly framed paintings, and Botticelli produced major works in this format. His complete mastery of the tondo format is evident in this “The Madonna of the Pomegranate” (c. 1487; Uffizi), one of his most beautiful paintings in the devotional theme.
It is a great pity, that much of Botticelli’s secular work is lost: From a working life of some 40 years, only eight examples by him survive in an already well-established genre, the portrait. He came under the patronage of rich Florentine families, especially so the Medici. As well portraits, he painted large format paintings as commissions on the occasions of important marriages. A chamber was usually prepared for the newly married couple in the family palace of the groom, and paintings were mounted within it. The themes of such paintings were either romantic, exalting love and lovers, or exemplary, depicting heroines of virtuous fame. Among the greatest examples of this type are four of Botticellis most famous works:
The “Primavera” (c. 1477–78; Uffizi - shown above);
“Pallas and the Centaur” (c. 1485; Uffizi),
“Venus and Mars” (c. 1485; National Gallery, London), and;
“The Birth of Venus” (c. 1485; Uffizi).
The “Primavera,” or “Allegory of Spring,” and “The Birth of Venus” were painted for the villa of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici at Castello. The “Pallas and the Centaur” (c. 1485; Uffizi), is one of my favourites. The theme is the taming of male lust (personified by the half-animal/half-human centaur) by female chastity symbolised by Pallas Athene (the goddess of chastisty and wisdom).
All four of these panel paintings have been variously interpreted by modern scholarship. The figures certainly do not enact a known myth but rather are used allegorically to illustrate various aspects of love: In the “Primavera,” its kindling and its fruition in marriage; in “Pallas,” the subjugation of male lust by female chastity; in “Venus and Mars,” a celebration of woman’s calm triumph after man’s sexual exhaustion; and in “The Birth of Venus,” the birth of love in the world.
Upon his death in 1510 Botticelli was buried in the Ognissanti cemetery. About 50 paintings survive that are either wholly or partly from his own hand. The Uffizi Gallery's magnificent collection of his works includes many of his masterpieces.
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