Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510)

 

Sandro Botticelli was a master of linear perspective during the Italian Renaissance.   He was one of the earliest painters to merge pagan and Christian iconographies in a single image.  The Birth of Venus (Image 1), is kept in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, within it, Botticelli, combines pagan iconographies of Venus along with Christian iconographies of the Virgin Mary.

 

In 1445, Sandro Botticelli was born Allesandro di Mariano Filipepi in Santa Maria Novella in Florence. He was the fourth child of Mariano Filipepi, a local tanner tradesman. Some believe Allesandro acquired his nickname from a local goldsmith, “Botticello”, however others believe it was his older brother, Antonio, who nicknamed him Botticelli, meaning “little barrel” (Basta 26).   In addition to his academic studies, Botticelli apprenticed with local goldsmiths in his youth.

 

In the early 1460s, Mariano sent Botticelli to apprentice with Fra Filippo Lippi, who was one of the most prominent and famous painters of the time.  Lippi was in the steady service of the Medici family – a wealthy and powerful banking family in Florence. From Lippi, Botticelli learned to master perspective and to perfect decorative details.  These influences can be seen in Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus (Image 1), Allegory of Spring (Image 2), and the Adoration of the Magi (Image 3).

 

The Renaissance is a term used to describe the cultural movement of “rebirth” in spirituality within literature and art (Cole 6). “The wealthy city of Republic of Florence nurtured some of the most spectacular accomplishments of the Renaissance” (Cole 12). Even after mass devastations from plagues and decades of war and political unrest in Northern Europe, trade flourished in coastal towns.  Florentine merchants discovered the Arabic numeral system while traveling abroad and introduced the new system in their trading practices.  Soon after, they created the universal gold coin called ‘the gold florin’.  In monopolizing the minting of the coin, they controlled all of Europe’s monetary needs (Barter 16).

 

During this era, merchants acquired massive amounts of wealth, becoming the nouveau riche.  These wealthy citizens wanted to realize their achievements by commissioning artisans to create their idealized images within monuments, sculptures, and artwork.  In the past, this was only possible for members of royalty and aristocracy.

 

One of the largest commissioners of art at the time was the Medici family of Florence.  In the late 1480s, “the Medici commissioned the Birth of Venus…and the Allegory of Spring at the Uffizi, [these belonged to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, a cousin of Lorenzo the Magnificent.]  “The theme comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses…We can find clear references to the “Stanzas”, a famous poetic work by Agnolo Poliziano, a contemporary of Botticelli and the greatest Neoplatonic poet of the Medici court. Neoplatonism was a current of thought that tried to connect the Greek and Roman cultural heritage with Christianity” (UFFIZI.org).

In the Birth of Venus, Botticelli gained fame and recognition for his mastery in combining pagan and Christian iconographies within a single image. To this day, scholars continue to disagree on the exact intent of the work.  However, we can easily see several mythological inspirations: such as the zephyrs blowing flowery air for Venus – to float atop the shell from the sea, as well as Grace, who waits on the shore to greet her with a blanket of flowers (UFFIZI.org).

In Latin literature a woman’s beauty is represented in her physical attributes of pearly smooth skin, golden locks of hair, and flowing garments of dress. These are all present in Botticelli’s Birth of Venus; however, Venus is also portrayed to have a demure and subtle pose, thus conveying modesty and purity.   In addition, a blue and white halo-of-light surrounds her head.  These symbolic ideals of purity along with a halo of light and centered prominence all point to the iconographic Christian images of the Virgin Mary.  In the Birth of Venus, Botticelli blends both pagan imageries and Christian imageries of what a “virtuous woman” represents.

Botticelli’s meticulous use of linear perceptive and precision to detail is consistent throughout his career. However, despite his fame and notoriety, his particular artistic style and popularity waned toward the end of his career.  Nevertheless, even after 500 years, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus is arguably one of the best works from the Italian Renaissance.

 

 

 

 

Cited Works

Basta, Clara. Art Classics Botticelli. New York, NY: Rizzola Libri Illustrati, 2004. Print.

 

Barter, James. A Travel Guide to Renaissance Florence. Farmington Mill, MI: Lucent Books, 2003. Print.

 

Cole, Alison. Renaissance: Discover the art of the Northern and Italian Renaissance, from the 14th to te 16th centuries. New York, NY: Dorling Kingsley Limited, 1994. Print.

 

“The Birth of Venus by Botticelli.” UFFIZI.org, nd. Web. 15 Aug 2013 http://www.uffizi.org/artworks/the-birth-of-venus-by-sandro-botticelli/

 

Images

 Birth of Venus

Botticelli, Sandro. Birth of Venus. 1484. Tempera on canvas, 184.5 x 285.5cm. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

Art Classics Botticelli. By Chiara Basta. New York, NY: Rizzoli Libri Illustrati, 2004.

 

Allegory of Spring

Botticelli, Sandro. Allegory of Spring. 1481-1482.  Tempera on panel, 203 x 314 cm.  Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

Art Classics Botticelli. By Chiara Basta. New York, NY: Rizzoli Libri Illustrati, 2004.

 Adoration of the Magi

 

Botticelli, Sandro. Adoration of the Magi. 1500.  Temper (?) on panel, 107.5 x 173 cm. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

Art Classics Botticelli. By Chiara Basta. New York, NY: Rizzoli Libri Illustrati, 2004.