Sandro Botticelli

Eumenis Megalopoulos | Jan 14, 2024

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Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, known as Sandro Botticelli, was an Italian painter, born in Florence on March 1, 1445 and died on May 17, 1510 in the same city. Botticelli is one of the most important painters of the Italian Renaissance and the history of art.

Origins and family

Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, nicknamed Sandro Botticelli, was born in 1445 in the Via Nuova (today's Via del Porcelain), in the Ognissanti district of Florence, Tuscany. He grew up in a modest family. His father, Mariano Filipepi, was a tanner and his workshop was located in the nearby neighborhood of Santo Spirito. Around Santa Maria Novella (where the Via del Porcelain is located), many inhabitants are dedicated to this activity, favored by the proximity of the waters of the Arno and Mugnone. His mother was Smeralda Filipepi; he was the youngest of four brothers (Giovanni, Antonio and Simone).

The first documents on the artist are constituted by the cadastral declarations (known as "portées au cadastre"), the fiscal declarations in which the heads of family must communicate their balance sheet, enumerating their assets, incomes and expenses, where they were engaged during the year. In Mariano Filipepi's declaration of 1458, his four sons Giovanni, Antonio, Simone and Sandro are mentioned: the latter, aged thirteen, is defined as "unhealthy", with the specification that "he reads", from which some historians have deduced a sickly childhood that would have led to an introverted character, which would be reflected in some of his works with a melancholic and preoccupied tone.

As his brother Antonio was a goldsmith by profession (battiloro or "battigello"), it is very likely that the young Sandro received an early education in his workshop from which he derived his nickname, while the hypothesis of his apprenticeship with a friend of his father, a certain master Botticello, as reported by Vasari in The Lives, is unlikely: there is no documentary evidence to confirm the existence of this craftsman who was active in the city in that period.

The nickname, on the other hand, seems to have been initially attributed to his brother Giovanni, who by profession is sensale del Monte (public agent) and who in the cadastre of 1458 is referred to as Botticello, which is extended to all the male members of the family and therefore, adopted also by the painter.


His real apprenticeship took place from 1464 to 1467 in the workshop of Filippo Lippi, with whom he worked in Prato on the last frescoes of the Lives of St. Stephen and St. John the Baptist, in the choir of the cathedral, along with many other apprentices.

A whole series of Madonnas date from this period, revealing the direct influence of the master on the young pupil, sometimes faithfully derived from La Lippina in the Uffizi (1465). The very first work attributed to Botticelli is the Madonna and Child with an Angel (c. 1465) in the Spedale degli Innocenti, in which the similarities with the contemporary painting by Lippi are so strong as to suggest a copy or homage; The same is true of the Madonna and Child with two angels (c. 1465) now in Washington, whose only variation is the angel added behind the Child, and of the Madonna and Child supported by an angel under a garland in the Fesch Museum in Ajaccio.

However, the influences of Antonio Pollaiuolo and Andrea del Verrocchio, whose studio he frequented after Filippo Lippi's departure for Spoleto, were also decisive in the gradual maturation of his pictorial language.

Verrocchio's influence is indeed evident in a second group of Madonnas painted between 1468 and 1469, such as Madonna in the Rose Garden, Madonna and Child in a Glory of Seraphim, both in the Uffizi, and Madonna and Child with Two Angels (c. 1468) in the Museum of Capodimonte in Naples, where the figures are arranged in perspective in front of the front limit of the painting, conceived as a "window", while the architecture in the background defines the volume of the ideal space in which the scene is inserted; The composition thus develops in scalar planes, halfway between the theoretical space rendered by the perspective plane and the real one constituted by the characters in the foreground.

The accentuated linearity, which can be interpreted as an expression of movement, is also evident, as are the reflections on the mathematical conception of painting, of great relevance at the time with the studies of Piero della Francesca; the same solution is proposed in other works of the same period, with only the variation of architectural and naturalistic terms.

At the same time, his apprenticeship in goldsmithing, engraving and chiseling influenced the line of his drawing. Botticelli worked a lot with craftsmen and in particular with his brother Antonio, a goldsmith with whom he shared his workshop.


Botticelli was already working on his own in 1469, as evidenced by the cadastral survey of the year, in which he is reported as working alone. On October 9, 1469, Filipo Lippi died in Spoleto and in 1470, Sandro created his own workshop.

From June 18 to August 18, 1470, he worked on his first public commission, of considerable prestige and resonance, an allegory for the Commercial Court of Florence, representing Strength. The panel was to be inserted into a cycle commissioned from Piero Pollaiuolo of the seven Christian virtues, the latter executing six. Botticelli accepted the general lines of the scheme presented by Pollaiolo, but interpreted the image in a completely different way: instead of the austere marble seat proposed by Piero, he painted a richly decorated throne with fantastic forms that constitute a precise reference to the moral qualities inherent in the exercise of judicial power, or in reality, a symbolic allusion to the "treasure" that accompanies the possession of this virtue. The living and real architecture joins the figure of a woman sitting on it, solid, plastic, but above all of extreme beauty; it is precisely the continuous search for absolute beauty, beyond time and space, that later led Botticelli to progressively detach himself from the initial models and develop a style that was significantly different from that of his contemporaries, making him practically unique in the Florentine artistic panorama of the time. This commission, however, marked the social recognition of a painter who had previously specialized in Madonnas with Children.

Botticelli chose to exalt grace, that is, intellectual elegance and the exquisite representation of feelings. For this reason, his most famous works are characterized by a marked linearity and an intense lyricism, but above all by an ideal balance between naturalism and artificiality of form.

Before producing these authentic masterpieces of art history, however, he can broaden his experience with other paintings that constitute the necessary intermediate passage between his early and mature works.

Works from the early seventies

At the age of 22, he entered the workshop of Fra Filippo Lippi. There, to feed the private devotion of the noble families of Florence, he specialized in the production of Madonna and Child. His already exceptional talent was spotted by Lorenzo de' Medici. In 1470, at the age of 25, he created his own workshop.

The Madonna of the Eucharist is particularly interesting because it shows the emergence of the Botticelli style. Dating from the early 1470s, this work is still in the spirit of the "commercial" productions of the Lippi workshop; a more personal style is already revealed. The most striking evolution lies in the emphasis on the beauty of the figures. Their faces stand out like portraits: the angel dressed as a young prince is undoubtedly a self-portrait; the model of the Virgin is Simonetta Vespucci. Considered the most beautiful woman in the world, adored by the Medici, she embodied the feminine ideal for the court artists. She died in 1476, at the age of 23. Botticelli was a platonic lover, to the point that he wrote in his will his wish to be "buried at her feet". When he died - thirty-four years after the beauty - his wishes were scrupulously respected. Their tombs can still be visited today in the Franciscan church of Ognissanti, in Florence.

In 1472, Botticelli joined the Compagnia di San Luca, the brotherhood of artists in Florence, and encouraged his fifteen-year-old friend Filippino Lippi, son of his master Filippo, to do the same. Filippino, a dear friend, soon became his first collaborator.

Botticelli frequented the Medici family circle, especially humanists such as Angelo Politian or Pico della Mirandola, which offered him protection and guaranteed him many commissions, such as The Adoration of the Magi (1475), painted for the funeral chapel of Gaspare Zanobi del Lama in Santa Maria Novella, an important work in which he painted a procession in which he represented the members of the Medici family. For the tournament of 1475, he painted the standard of Giuliano de' Medici, a work now lost, proof that he was beginning to be introduced socially by participating in a great ceremony.

The Saint Sebastian, destined for Santa Maria Maggiore, belongs to this first period, a work in which Botticelli shows his approach to the philosophy of the Neoplatonic academy, which he must have already approached at the time of the Force. In the cultivated cultural circles close to the Medici family, led by Marsilio Ficino and Angelo Politian, reality was seen as the combination of two great principles, the divine on the one hand and inert matter on the other; man thus occupies a privileged place in the world because, through reason, he can access the contemplation of the divine, but he can also retreat to the lowest levels of his condition if he is guided only by the materiality of his own instincts. In this work, Botticelli, in addition to exalting bodily beauty, wants to detach the figure suspended in the air of the saint from worldliness, to highlight it with that light on the sides that brings it closer to heaven and transcendence, and to highlight, as Piero Pollaiolo does more explicitly in a similar painting, the melancholy that emerges from the offense that the world, impenetrable to these ideals, has committed against Saint Sebastian. In this way he succeeds in making visible that beauty that his Neoplatonic philosopher friends, whose ideas he fully embraced, theorized, adding his personal interpretation of the melancholic and contemplative character, which distinguished him from other artists of his time.

In 1472, he composed the diptych of the Episodes of the Life of Judith, with The Discovery of the Corpse of Holofernes and The Return of Judith to Bethulia. The two panels, perhaps originally combined, provide further evidence of the lesson learned from his masters. Indeed, in the first, with the Discovery of Holofernes' corpse, the reference to Pollaiolo's style is still strong, with the incisive modeling of the figures, the brilliant chromaticism and the marked expressionism of the scene. All the drama and violence that characterize this first episode disappear completely in the second panel, with an almost idyllic atmosphere more suited to Fra Filippo's language and sensibility; Judith's Return to Bethulia is inserted in a delicate landscape, in which the two women move with an almost uncertain step. However, this is not the umpteenth quotation from the master: the vibrant drapery of the dresses suggests a sense of restlessness foreign to Filippo, as does the melancholic expression on Judith's face.

The format of the painting with the Adoration of the Magi; executed between 1473 and 1474 and preserved in the National Gallery in London, is a derivative of the traditional desco da parto, an example of anamorphosis (or anamorphosis), that it is necessary to put it in a horizontal position to be able to look at it. It is one of the first experiments to distort perspective as it was configured in the 15th century.

From this same period (1474-1475), a work composed with the same principles also reveals Flemish influence: the Portrait of a young man bearing the seal of Cosimo the Elder. The famous Portrait of Giuliano de' Medici is slightly later and dates from 1478.

In the 1970s, Botticelli's style was fully established. His later works would then be enriched with humanist and philosophical themes in the major commissions entrusted to him by important members of the Medici family, opening his period of great masterpieces.

Neoplatonic influence

The Neo-Platonists offer the most convincing revaluation of ancient culture known since the period of antiquity, succeeding in bridging the gap that had formed between the early supporters of the humanist movement and the Christian religion, which condemned antiquity as pagan; They not only forcefully re-propose the "virtues of the ancients as an ethical model" of civil life, but also succeed in reconciling Christian ideals with those of classical culture, drawing inspiration from Plato and the various currents of late pagan mysticism that testified to the profound religiosity of pre-Christian communities.

The influence of these theories on the figurative arts is profound. In the Neoplatonic system, the themes of beauty and love become central because man, driven by love, can rise from the lower realm of matter to the higher realm of spirit. Mythology was fully rehabilitated and given the same rank as the themes of the sacred subjects; this also explains why secular decorations were so widely spread.

Venus, the most sinful goddess of the pagan Olympus, was totally reinterpreted by the Neoplatonist philosophers and became one of the most frequently represented subjects by artists according to a double typology: the celestial Venus, symbol of the spiritual love which pushes the man towards asceticism, and the terrestrial Venus, symbol of the instinct and the passion which make him fall.

The struggle between a higher and a lower principle (for example Mars tamed by Venus or the monsters killed by Hercules), is another theme often represented according to the idea of a continuous tension of the human soul, suspended between virtues and vices; the man in practice tends towards the good, but is unable to reach the perfection and is often threatened by the danger to fall again towards the irrationality, dictated by his instinct; the existential drama of the neoplatonic man, conscious to have to chase all his life a condition which cannot be reached in a definitive way, derives from this conscience of his own limits

Botticelli, a friend of the Neoplatonist philosophers, fully accepted their ideas and succeeded in making visible the beauty they theorized, with his personal interpretation of a melancholic and contemplative character, which often did not coincide with that proposed by other artists linked to the same cultural environment.

In 1474, Botticelli was called to Pisa to paint a cycle of frescoes in the Camposanto monumentale. As proof of his skill, he was asked to paint an altarpiece with the Assumption, but neither commission was completed for reasons that remain unknown.

At the service of the Medici

Botticelli's connections within the Medici family circle were undoubtedly useful in guaranteeing him a certain amount of protection and numerous commissions over a period of twenty years. In 1475, he painted the banner for the joust held in the Piazza Santa Croce, in which he represented Simonetta Vespucci, a muse of epic beauty that the artist would represent throughout his career, a joust won by Giuliano de' Medici. In 1478, after the Pazzi conspiracy in which Giuliano was killed, Botticelli was asked to depict the condemned man in absentia on signs hung next to the Palazzo Vecchio, Porta della Dogana, as Andrea del Castagno had done years earlier, in 1440, during the Albizi conspiracy against the Medici, which had earned the artist the nickname "Andrea degli Impiccati. Sandro fully embraced the cause of the Medici who protected him and gave him the opportunity to create works of great prestige.

The Adoration of the Magi of 1475, painted for the funeral chapel of Zanobi del Lama Gaspare in Santa Maria Novella, is particularly interesting: it is a very important work because it introduces a great formal novelty, namely the frontal view of the scene, with the sacred figures in the center and the others arranged in perspective on the sides; before it, in fact, it was customary to arrange the three kings and all the other members of the retinue on the side, to the right or to the left, so that the figures create a kind of procession reminiscent of the annual cavalcade of the magi, a sacred representation perpetuated in the streets of Florence.

Botticelli inserted, at the request of his client, a Medici courtier, the portraits of the family members, including those of Cosimo the Elder and his sons Peter and John, who are clearly distinguished, while Lorenzo the Magnificent, Giuliano de' Medici and other figures from the Medici court are represented among the spectators arranged on the sides, forming two wings connected by the figures of the two Magi in the foreground in the center. But the most innovative iconographic motif is that of the crib with the holy family, set on a dilapidated building, while in the background the arches of another half-destroyed building can be seen, on which grass has now grown; this theme will be generalized and will also be taken up by Leonardo da Vinci for his Adoration of the Magi. It is based on an episode from the Golden Legend, according to which the emperor Augustus, who boasted of having pacified the world, once met a Sibyl who predicted the arrival of a new king who could defeat him and have a power far greater than his own. The ruined buildings in the background thus symbolically represent the ancient world and paganism, while Christianity, represented by the crib, is in the foreground as the present and future of the world. The painting also constitutes an exceptional justification, both in philosophical and religious terms, of the Medici principality over Florence with the representation of the principal members of the family as the Magi and the spectators.

Portraits from the same period, in addition to confirming Botticelli's relationship with the Neoplatonist circle, also reveal definite Flemish influences in his painting. In the Portrait of a Man with a Medal by Cosimo the Elder (1474-1475), the figure is depicted in a three-quarter pose and is dressed in the typical dress worn by the Florentine bourgeoisie of the time; it is now thought that he is almost certainly the painter's brother, Antonio Filipepi, a goldsmith specifically mentioned in some documents in the Medici archives for gilding certain medals (the one affixed in stucco on the painting was created between 1465 and 1469). Until then, the only known example of a portrait of this type was the one painted by the Flemish painter Hans Memling around 1470, with which there are notable similarities.

However, the reference to Flemish models is simply a starting point for the artist who increasingly tends to abstract the figures from their context.

In the 1478 Portrait of Giuliano de' Medici, some Flemish influences are still visible, such as the half-open door in the background and the subject's pose, a reference to Pollaiolo's chromaticism and energetic linearity, but the novelty is the close-up dove that suggests greater psychological introspection.

Botticelli's stylistic path in this pictorial genre appears to be completed in the following portraits, as evidenced by the Portrait of a Young Man, painted after 1478, which is dominated by a formal linearity that does not hesitate to sacrifice the historical conquest of the beginning of the Florentine Renaissance: the background is totally absent and the image completely transfigured; perspective is no longer considered essential to give realism to the scene.

In his declaration to the land registry of 1480, a large number of pupils and assistants are mentioned, demonstrating how active the painter's studio was at the time. The Saint Augustine in his study in the Ognissanti church dates from the same year. Commissioned by the important Florentine Vespucci family, it is characterized by an expressive power reminiscent of the best works of Andrea del Castagno. In an open book placed behind the saint, it is possible to read some sentences about a brother, which today are mainly interpreted as a joke that the painter wanted to immortalize. The Annunciation of San Martino alla Scala is dated the following year.

Frescoes of the Sistine Chapel

Lorenzo's policy of reconciliation with the allies of the Pazzi Conspiracy (in particular Sixtus IV and Ferdinand I of Aragon) was carried out effectively also through cultural exchanges, with the dispatch of the greatest Florentine artists to other Italian cities, as ambassadors of beauty, harmony and the Florentine cultural primacy.

On October 27, 1480, Botticelli, Cosimo Rosselli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Perugino and their respective collaborators left for Rome to fresco the walls of the Sistine Chapel. The cycle includes the realization of ten scenes from the Lives of Christ and Moses. The painters adhered to common representational conventions in order to make the work homogeneous through the use of the same dimensional scales, rhythmic structures and landscape representations. They also used gold finishes alongside a single color scheme so that the paintings would glow in the light of torches and candles. According to the iconographic program desired by Sixtus IV, the various episodes are arranged symmetrically to allow for a conceptual comparison between the life of Christ and that of Moses, in a continuous parallelism tending to affirm the superiority of the New Testament over the Old and to demonstrate the continuity of the divine law that was transposed from the tablets of the Law to the Christian evangelical message, and then transmitted from Jesus to St. Peter, and from the latter to his successors, that is to say, to the Popes themselves.

Botticelli was awarded three episodes. On February 17, 1482, his contract for the paintings was renewed, but on the 20th of the same month, his father died, forcing him to return to Florence, from where he would not leave.

The three great frescoes executed by Botticelli, with the use of aids that a work of such immensity requires, are the Trials of Moses, the Temptation of Christ and the Punishment of the Rebels, as well as some figures of popes on the sides of the windows, among which Sixtus II, today very degraded and repainted.

In the Sistine frescoes, Botticelli showed himself to be more inconsistent and scattered than usual, with difficulties in coordinating forms and narrative, creating an often fragmentary whole, perhaps due to his disorientation: he worked on unfamiliar dimensions and themes and in a foreign environment. Unfortunately, because of the rivalry between the Pope, a Della Rovere, and the Medici, his patrons, his talent was not recognized.

Return to Florence

Back in Florence, unhappy with the reception of his Vatican frescoes and determined never to leave his native city, Botticelli had to express his decision not to return to Rome and embark on new commissions for his city. On October 5, 1482, he was commissioned to decorate the Sala dei Gigli in the Palazzo Vecchio with some of the most renowned artists of the time, such as Domenico Ghirlandaio, Perugino and Piero Pollaiuolo. In the end, Ghirlandaio was the only one to work there: for unknown reasons, the others did not participate.

His Roman sojourn, however, had a definite influence on the evolution of his style, stimulating a renewed interest in classical motifs (derived from direct viewing of ancient sarcophagi) and a more conscious use of ancient architectural elements in the backgrounds.

Histoire de Nastagio degli Onesti

The following year, in 1483, Botticelli was commissioned by the Medici to paint four cassone panels with the History of Nastagio degli Onesti, taken from a short story in the Decameron. Perhaps commissioned directly by Lorenzo the Magnificent, they were a gift for the wedding celebrated between Giannozzo Pucci and Lucrezia Bini the same year.

The plot of the novel, rich in supernatural elements, allows Botticelli to mix the narrative liveliness of the story with a fantastic register that is not usual for him and, despite the fact that the hand of his assistants can be found in many of the panels, the result is one of the most original and interesting works of his artistic production.

Villa of Spedaletto

In 1483, Sandro Botticelli took part in the most ambitious decorative program initiated by Lorenzo the Magnificent, the decoration of the Villa di Spedaletto, near Volterra, where he brought together the best artists of the Florentine scene at the time: Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Filippino Lippi and Botticelli. The frescoes, which had, as we know, a deliciously mythological character, have been completely lost.

Mythological cycle

Botticelli painted for the Villa Medicea di Castello of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici, second cousin of Lorenzo the Magnificent, The Spring in 1482 and The Birth of Venus around 1485, his two most famous works.

Spring is, along with the Birth of Venus, Botticelli's most famous work. It is not known whether the two large paintings, the first on wood, the second on canvas, are companion pieces, as Vasari saw them around 1550 in the Villa Medicea di Castello.

It seems established, at least for The Spring, that it was commissioned by Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de 'Medici, who was also a student of Marsilio Ficino and who later commissioned the artist to create a cycle of frescoes (lost) in the villa. The subject of Spring is not completely clear, the mythological figures in it refer to various theories of Medici neoplatonism and probably also refer to the client and his marriage in 1482.

One of the most plausible interpretations sees the group of people as a representation of instinctive carnal love (the right group), which also triggers the change of nature (the transformation into Flora - Spring) and which is then sublimated, under the gaze of Venus and Eros in the center, into something more perfect (the Graces, symbol of perfect Love), while on the right, Mercury is chasing away the clouds with the caduceus for an endless spring. Venus would thus be the humanist ideal of spiritual love in a perspective of purifying ascendancy.

The myth is described in modern terms, with an idyllic scene dominated by judiciously calibrated rhythms and formal balances, such as the harmonic line that defines the drapery, the gestures, the very elegant profiles, which ends with the gesture of Mercury. The figures stand out clearly against the dark background, with a simplified spatiality reminiscent of tapestries, in which we see the first signs of the crisis of the world of rational perspective of the early fifteenth century to go towards a freer insertion of figures in space.

One of the most famous works of the artist and of the Italian Renaissance in general, the Birth of Venus, can be dated, like the Spring, in the period from 1477 to about 1485. The most recent theories consider the two works to be practically contemporary, although it is difficult for Botticelli to have conceived the two paintings in the same figurative program due to their differences in technique and style. Unlike the Spring, the Birth of Venus is not mentioned in the Medici inventories of 1498, 1503 and 1516, but thanks to Vasari's testimony in the Lives, we know that in 1550 he saw the two works exhibited together in the Villa di Castello, the country residence of the younger branch of the Medici family.

In terms of interpretation, the scene would represent the moment before that depicted in Spring, when Venus settles in the garden of Love: after her birth from the sea foam, led by the union of the winds Zephyr and Aura, she lands on the shores of the island of Cyprus, where she is welcomed by one of the Hours who spreads a rich mantle woven with flowers over her. Many historians seem to agree on the very close link between the painting and a passage from Angel Politian's Stanze: the almost absolute coincidence between the story and the painting would confirm that it is an illustration of the poem by the Neoplatonist philosopher, with implicit references to the ideals of love that characterize this school of thought.

The Birth of Venus would thus be the coming to light of Humanitas, understood as the allegory of the driving force of Nature. The figure of the goddess, represented in the pose of a modest Aphrodite (i.e. covering her nudity with her hands and long blonde hair), is the personification of the celestial Venus, symbol of purity, simplicity and beauty without embellishment of the soul. This is one of the fundamental concepts of Neoplatonic humanism, which also recurs in various aspects in two other paintings by Botticelli from the same period: Pallas and the Centaur and Venus and Mars.

The composition is extremely balanced and symmetrical, the design is based on very elegant lines that create sinuous and graceful decorative games. The drawing never resorts to purely decorative effects, but maintains a respect for volume and a faithful rendering of the different materials, especially in the very light garments. The clear, crisp color, derived from a particular technique that imitates fresco, imbues the figures with light, bringing out the penetrating purity of beauty. Even more than in Spring, the spatiality of the background is flat, blocking the figures in a magical suspension. The gradual loss of the values of perspective places this work after the Spring, in a phase where the "crisis" that will hit Florence at the end of the century has already begun more than ever.

Pallas and the Centaur (1482-84) is mentioned in the Medici inventories among the works present, along with the Spring, in the Medici-Riccardi palace. According to neo-Platonic thought, supported by the writings of Marsilio Ficino, the scene could be seen as an allegory of reason, symbolized by the goddess who wins over instinct represented by the centaur, a mythological creature half-man, half-horse.

However, another political reading of the painting has also been proposed: it would represent, still symbolically, the diplomatic action carried out in those years by Lorenzo the Magnificent, who is committed to negotiating a separate peace with the Kingdom of Naples to avoid its joining the anti-Florentine league promoted by Sixtus IV; in this case, the centaur would represent Rome and the goddess would personify Florence (she carries the halberd and has a dress decorated with Lorenzo's personal insignia), while the Gulf of Naples is recognizable in the background.

The proposed interpretation of another allegory depicting Venus and Mars, lying on a lawn and surrounded by a group of playful satyrs, is essentially philosophical; Botticelli's source of inspiration seems reasonably to be Plato's Banquet, which Ficino translated, in which the goddess Venus, a symbol of love and harmony, triumphs over the god Mars, a symbol of hatred and discord (Mars is the ancient god of war).

The satyrs seem to torment Mars by disturbing his sleep, while completely ignoring the alert and aware Venus; this scene would be a figuration of another cornerstone of the ideals of neo-Platonic thought, that of the harmony of opposites, constituted by the Mars-Venus duo, although the critic Plunkett has pointed out that the painting takes up a passage from the Greek writer Lucian of Samosata, in which another painting depicting the marriage of Alexander and Roxane is described. The work may therefore have been created for the wedding of a member of the Vespucci family, patron of the Filipepi (as would be indicated by the unusual motif of bees in the upper right, which appear in the Vespucci coat of arms) and this iconography would have been chosen as a vow for the bride.

The Madonna of the Magnificat

The philosophical spirit that seems to envelop all of Botticelli's works in the first half of the 1480s also extends to those of a religious nature; a significant example is the tondo with the Madonna of the Magnificat, painted between 1483 and 1485, where, according to André Chastel, Botticelli attempts to combine classical naturalism with Christian spiritualism.

The Virgin is in the center, richly dressed, her head covered with transparent veils and precious fabrics, her blond hair intertwined, a scarf tied on her chest; the name given to the painting derives from the word "Magnificat" which appears on a book held by two angels, dressed as pages, who offer the Virgin an inkwell, while the Child observes his mother and, with his left hand, catches a pomegranate, symbol of the resurrection.

In the background, a landscape appears through a circular window; the painted stone frame crushes the figures in the foreground who follow the circular movement of the painting to let the figures emerge from the surface of the painting, as if the image were reflected in a convex mirror. At the same time, the composition is aerated by the arrangement of the two angels in the foreground, who lead the gaze through an ideal diagonal towards the landscape in the background.

A tondo for the courtroom of the Magistratura dei Massai di Camera in the Palazzo Vecchio, perhaps the Madonna with Pomegranate, another public commission, occupied the artist until 1487.

Repercussions caused by Savonarola

From the end of the 1480s, the painter's production began to reveal the first signs of an inner crisis that culminated in the last phase of his career in an exacerbated mysticism, aimed at denying the style for which he had distinguished himself in the Florentine artistic panorama of the century. The appearance of the Ferrarese preacher Savonarola on the political-religious scene, especially after the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent in 1492, led to a profound questioning of the previous culture, with the condemnation of mythological and pagan themes, of freedom in dress and ostentatious luxury. The monk harshly attacks the customs and culture of the time, predicting death and the arrival of divine judgment, and imposing penance and expiation of sins. The invasion of the French king Charles VIII in 1494 seemed to fulfill his prophecies, so that Savonarola succeeded in fomenting the uprising that drove out Peter II de Medici and re-established the Florentine Republic, to the organization of which it seems that the friar made a substantial contribution.

Botticelli was, along with many other artists such as Fra Bartolomeo and the young Michelangelo, influenced by this new political and social climate, which shook the certainties engendered by 15th century humanism.

On February 7, 1497, Savonarola and his followers erected the Bonfire of the Vanities. Young boys were sent from door to door to collect all objects related to spiritual corruption: mirrors and cosmetics, licentious images, non-religious books, games, the most splendid dresses, nudes painted on the lids of cassoni, books by poets deemed immoral, such as those of Boccaccio and Petrarch. These objects were burned on a vast pyre erected in Piazza della Signoria. Masterpieces of Florentine art of the Renaissance disappeared in the flames, including paintings by Sandro Botticelli that the artist himself brought: he "publicly regretted having sacrificed to the taste of paganism" and was going to devote himself to religious paintings. Vasari in the Lives of the painters, volume I, says that he is a follower of Savonarola in these terms: "of the sect of which he was a partisan, to the point that he gave up painting, and as he had no resources, he fell into the greatest embarrassment. A staunch follower of this party, as it was then called, he stopped working, and at the end of his life he found himself old and poor, so that the Medici, for whom he had worked so hard, no longer supported him financially. It is therefore easy to understand why Vasari, as the architect of the Uffizi piazzale, did not have a statue of Sandro Botticelli erected among those of the "great men" who make up the prestige of Florence.

In 1497 and 1498, Savonarola's followers organized several "Vanities Fires", which must not only have made a deep impression on the painter, but also aroused in him a deep sense of guilt for having given a face to that artistic magisterium so bitterly condemned by the friar.

The hostility of Pope Alexander VI and other Italian heads of state undermined the popularity of the friar who, abandoned by his own countrymen, was excommunicated, then condemned to the stake after a highly controlled trial, undergoing torture in the Piazza della Signoria on 23 May 1498.

That Botticelli was a militant supporter of the Dominican monk is not documented, but there is an allusion to his advocacy of Savonarola's cause in the Cronaca di Simone Filipepi in which the artist is depicted in a dialogue in which he says he finds the monk's condemnation unjust. Some of the Dominican monk's themes can be found in his later works, such as the mystical Nativity and the mystical Crucifixion, which at least testify to his strong attraction to his personality. It is not by chance that after 1490 Botticelli devoted himself exclusively to sacred themes.

The Madonnas acquire a higher and more slender physiognomy, with sharper features that give them an ascetic character (Madonna Bardi, Altarpiece of San Barnaba, c. 1485), and show a more marked plasticism, an accentuated use of chiaroscuro, as well as an accentuated expressiveness of the characters. Sometimes the painter managed to restore an archaic golden background, as in the Altarpiece of San Marco (1488-1490). The Annunciation of the Cestello dates from this period (1489-1490).

On October 13, 1490, Botticelli was fined by the Ufficiali di Notte e Monasteri, offices specialized in punishing crimes against morality, for an unspecified "contra ordinamenta" offense. Among the public missions entrusted to him at that time, there is the design of the mosaic of the chapel of San Zanobi in Santa Maria del Fiore, later executed by David Ghirlandaio, Gherardo and Monte di Giovanni, and the participation with Lorenzo di Credi, Ghirlandaio, Perugino and Alesso Baldovinetti, in the evaluation of the projects of the facade of the Duomo, which was built only in the 19th century.

The Calumny of Apelles

The Calumny of Apelles, executed between 1490 and 1495, marks the real "turning point" between the two ways, an allegorical painting inspired by Lucian of Samosate, reported in Alberti's treatise which alludes to the false accusation of having conspired against Ptolemy IV made by a rival to the painter Apelles.

Once again, the complex iconography faithfully reproduces the original episode. The scene is set in a grandiose classroom, richly decorated with marble and sculptures, full of characters; the painting should be read from right to left: King Midas (recognizable by his donkey ears), in the guise of the evil judge, sits on the throne, advised by Ignorance and Suspicion; in front of him stands Lividity, the man with the black hood and the torch in his hand; behind him is Slander, a beautiful woman who has her hair done by Perfidy and Deceit, while dragging the impotent slanderer to the ground; the old woman on the left is Penitence and the last female figure, still on the left, is Truth, with her eyes turned towards the sky, as if to indicate the only true source of justice

Despite the formal perfection of the painting, the scene is characterized above all by a strong sense of drama; the sumptuous setting helps to create a kind of "court" of history, in which the real accusation seems to be directed precisely against the ancient world, from which justice, one of the fundamental values of civil life, seems absent. It is a bitter observation, which reveals all the limits of human wisdom and ethical principles of classicism, not entirely foreign to neo-Platonic philosophy, but which is expressed here with violent and pathetic tones, which go far beyond the simple expression of melancholy seen on the faces of the characters in Botticelli's early works.

The Lamentation over the Dead Christ and the Mystical Nativity

Savonarola was executed on May 23, 1498, but his ideas dealt such a severe blow to Florentine public and cultural life that the city never fully recovered.

After his death, Botticelli was no longer the same and he certainly could not embrace pagan myths again as if nothing had happened. His views are recorded in Simone Filipepi's Cronaca (1499), in which the painter is described in a conversation with Dolfo Spini, one of the judges who participated in Savonarola's trial, about the events that led to the brother's conviction. Botticelli's words sound like a reproach for a sentence considered unjust.

The works of the following years appear increasingly isolated from the local context and driven by a visionary fantasy. Botticelli took refuge in a desolate and fiery mysticism, as evidenced by The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, practically contemporary with Calumny, with figures with pathetic gestures and the body of Christ in the center arching in a semicircle, and the Mystical Nativity of 1501 : Botticelli interprets a scene with apocalyptic tones and archaic structure, performing a conscious regression that negates the construction of perspective, referring to medieval iconography that ordered the figures according to religious hierarchy. The Greek writing at the top (unique in his production), the dance of the angels above the crib and the unprecedented embrace between celestial creatures and men, constitute the elements of this prophetic vision of the coming of the Antichrist.

Botticelli wanted to bring pain and pathos into his compositions in order to involve the viewer more, but his attempt to retrace the path of life and history met with neither favor nor understanding from his contemporaries who, after the Savonarolian "storm," were slowly trying to return to normality. Moreover, the influences of the brother have an effect as lasting as in the sole production of the painter.

Last years

In 1493, his brother Giovanni died, and in 1495 he carried out work for the Medici of the "Popolano" branch, painting for them works destined for the Villa del Trebbio. In 1498, the property declared to the land registry shows a substantial patrimony: a house in the Santa Maria Novella district and an income guaranteed by the villa of Bellosguardo near Florence.

In 1502, an anonymous complaint accused him of sodomy. In the register of the Night Officers, on November 16 of that year, it is reported that the painter "kept a boy". In any case, both this episode and the one that took place twelve years earlier were resolved apparently without harm to the artist.

His fame was then in full decline: the artistic environment, in Florence and elsewhere, was dominated by Leonardo da Vinci, already well established, and the young rising star Michelangelo. After the Mystic Nativity, Botticelli seemed to remain inactive. In 1502, he wrote a letter to Isabella d'Este offering, without commitment, to work on the decoration of her studiolo.

Although he was old and distant, his artistic opinion was still taken into consideration: in 1504, he was one of the members of the commission in charge of choosing the most appropriate place to install Michelangelo's David.

The painter, now old and almost inactive, spent the last years of his life isolated and in poverty. He died on May 17, 1510 in the house in Via della Porcellenna where he had worked all his life. He is buried in the family tomb in the Ognissanti church in Florence.

His only true heir is Filippino Lippi, who shares with him the anxiety present in his last production.

Botticelli's style underwent several evolutions over time, but retained certain fundamental traits that make it still recognizable today, even for the general public. The fundamental contributions of his artistic training are essentially those of Filippo Lippi, Andrea del Verrocchio and Antonio del Pollaiolo.

From Lippi, his first true master, he learned to paint elegant faces and a rarefied ideal beauty, the taste for the predominance of drawing and contour, loose forms, delicately matched colors, the domestic warmth of sacred figures. From Pollaiolo, he acquired a drawing with dynamic and energetic line, the ability to build expressive and lively forms thanks to the strength of the outline and the movement. From Verrocchio, he learned to paint solemn and monumental forms, merged with the atmosphere thanks to the beautiful effects of light, and endowed with effects of matter in the rendering of the different materials.

From the synthesis of these teachings, Botticelli drew the original and autonomous expression of his own style, characterized by the particular physiognomy of the figures, with a timeless beauty subtly veiled in melancholy, by a great interest reserved for the human figure in relation to the backgrounds and the environment, and by the linearity that sometimes modifies the forms according to the desired feeling ("expressionism"), this last point being remarkable above all in the late phase of his activity.

From time to time, depending on the subject and the period, linear or colorist, or finally expressionist components prevail.

In his last production, the dilemma arose in the contrast between the world of humanist culture, with its courtly and paganized components, and that of the ascetic and reforming rigor of Savonarola, which leads the artist to rethink and to a mystical crisis that can even be read in his works. The subjects become more and more introspective, almost exclusively religious; the scenes are more unreal, with the conscious revival of archaisms such as the golden background or a meaningful perspective. In this crisis, however, there is also the germ of the break from the ideal of geometric rationality of the early Renaissance in favor of a freer arrangement of subjects in space that preludes the sensibility of the sixteenth century.

Botticelli also left a remarkable production of drawings. They are often preparatory works for painting, but some are independent works. The most famous are the drawings of the Divine Comedy, made on parchment between 1490 and 1496 for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici, and today dispersed between the Vatican Apostolic Library and the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin. In these drawings, the linearity is accentuated and the taste archaic, with figures that move very little in their environment.

The cartoons for various inlays are also attributed to Botticelli, such as those for the doors of the Sala dei Gigli in the Palazzo Vecchio (1478) or some for Federico da Montefeltro's studiolo (1476). The Uffizi preserve the Lunette with Three Flying Angels, and the pen-and-ink sketch of the Allegoria dell'Abbondanza is in the British Museum.

The first nude painted by Botticelli is male. It is the naked body of the Assyrian general Holofernes, decapitated: The Discovery of the Corpse of Holofernes. This painting, in which Holofernes is found by his aides-de-camp, is the second panel of a diptych, the left panel of which shows the return of Judith followed by her servant carrying the general's head in a basket. The second nude by the same painter, also male, is a Saint Sebastian (Botticelli) pierced by arrows, shown full-length, tied to a column, and to which, for the first time, Botticelli has observed a double arabesque. In these two works, the character's sex is hidden under appropriate veils. In The Birth of Venus, a panel painted some ten years later, the goddess is depicted naked, full-length, life-size.

Commissioned by Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco, a relative of Lorenzo de' Medici, as a counterpart to Spring (which the Magnificent, his tutor, had given him as a gift), this painting was intended to decorate his villa in Castello, near Florence. Only the friends of its owner, neo-Platonists who were lovers of Greco-Roman mythology and often collectors of antique statues, could admire it, and the nudity could not shock them.

In this work, Botticelli depicts a modest Venus, whose attitude is probably inspired by a Roman bas-relief. He shows the goddess in the guise of Simonetta Vespucci, despite the fact that this young woman had been dead for at least eight years when he painted this idealized portrait of her. Botticelli's nude Venus, on the other hand, is a very chaste goddess, covering her breasts with one hand and hiding her pubic bone with the other behind a lock of her long, flowing hair. In addition, the painter has blurred the tips of Venus' breasts and navel, and he has given her a dreamy look that removes any equivocation in the viewer's mind. Far from wanting to paint a Venus Erotica, Botticelli represented the Venus Humanitas of the Platonists, for whom the contemplation of beauty gave men an image of divine perfection. A copy of the central figure of the Birth of Venus was made by Botticelli's workshop, a model which Lorenzo di Credi was later to draw inspiration from to paint his own Venus.

Botticelli painted a last female nude about twenty years later, the Truth of Apelles (Botticelli), for which he took the figure of Simonetta Vespucci as he had represented her in his Birth of Venus, the body observing the same double arabesque, one hand raised to point to the sky, the other modestly concealing her sex.

Botticelli's painting multiplies the mysteries. A prestigious culture and an often hermetic attitude play a decisive role, of which Marsilio Ficino is the most representative figure. The pleasure of this art is complex and complete: the purely plastic beauty is that of a coded image that poses the profound intimacy of Form and Intelligible.


Botticelli is known for his allegories. His study of Greco-Roman antiquity was part of his humanities. An intellectual painter whose public was composed of courtiers of a high level of culture, as well as wealth, he painted many pictures in the mode of reference to Hellenic mythography in order to draw allusions intended for amateurs. The Calumny of Apelles is an emblem of this type of work.

His general theme is the representation of the woman, on which he takes a new look while magnifying it.

Religious themes

Among his religious themes, his seven works on the theme of the Annunciation and the Virgin and Child stand out.


Botticelli was called to Rome in 1481 by Pope Sixtus IV to execute three frescoes that adorn the walls of the chapel: The Punishment of Korah, Datan and Abiram (or Punishment of the Rebels), The Trials of Moses and The Temptation of Jesus


Illustration (by 92 drawings of 47 cm × 32 cm) of a manuscript of Dante's Divine Comedy commissioned by Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici, one of the cousins of Lorenzo de' Medici (metalpoint on parchment, retouched in ink and partially colored). Part of these illustrations belonged to Queen Christine of Sweden and are currently in the Vatican, the other part has reached the Royal Cabinet of Drawings and Prints in Berlin.

The Botticelli crater, on the surface of Mercury, was named after Sandro Botticelli.

Le long métrage Botticelli, his time, his artist friends de Guido Arata (1993) lui est dédié.

The artist also appears in the second season of the television series The Medici, in which he is played by Sebastian de Souza.

At an auction at Sotheby's in New York on January 28, 2021, the painting Young Man Holding a Medallion sold for $92.2 million. Botticelli thus became the second most expensive Old Master after Leonardo da Vinci and the work became the most expensive portrait in the world.


  1. Sandro Botticelli
  2. Sandro Botticelli
  3. ^ a b Ettlingers, 7. Other sources give 1446, 1447 or 1444–45.
  4. ^ "Sandro Botticelli - Biography and Legacy".
  5. Barbara Deimling (directeur de la Syracuse University à Florence), Sandro Botticelli, 1444/45-1510, Taschen, 2000, (ISBN 3 8228 5992 3)
  6. L'année commençant à Florence dans cette période en mars.
  7. a b c d e et f Santi, p. 85.
  8. a et b Giorgio Vasari, Vies des peintres, t. I.
  9. a et b Santi, cit., pag. 85.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Santi, cit., pag. 85.
  11. ^ Santi, cit., pag. 92.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Santi, cit., pag. 86.
  13. ^ a b Santi, cit., pag. 120.
  14. Patrick, Renaissance and Reformation vol 1, 2007. Otras fuentes proponen 1446, 1447 o 1444-45, pero el consenso es 1445

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