Botticelli was born in the city of Florence. Botticelli was initially trained as a goldsmith. He became an apprentice when he was about fourteen years old. By 1462 he was apprenticed to Fra Filippo Lippi; 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'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, participating in the creation of a fresco in Esztergom.
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 modelled forms.
In the scene numerous characters are present, among which are several members of the Medici family: Cosimo de' Medici (the Magus kneeling in front of the Virgin, his sons Piero and Giovanni, and his grandsons Giuliano and Lorenzo. The three Medici portrayed as Magi were all dead at the time the picture was painted, and Florence was effectively ruled by Lorenzo.
Whether Botticelli's intimate relations with the Medici brothers allowed the wealthy Gaspare to introduce the portraits of their kinsmen in his altar-piece, or Gaspare was glad for this opportunity to pay a graceful compliment to these powerful personages is hard to tell.
Gaspare himself is said to be included in the painting, as the old man on the right with white hair and an alight blue robe looking and pointing at the observer. Furthermore, also Botticelli is alleged to have made a self-portrait as the blonde man with yellow mantle on the far right. More
The subject of the title takes place in three scenes in the upper section of the fresco. On the left, Jesus, who has been fasting, is tempted by the Devil, in the guise of a hermit, to turn stones into bread.
In the second scene of temptation, at the upper centre of the picture, the Devil has carried Jesus to the top of the temple of Jerusalem, represented by the facade of the Chapel of Santa Maria in Traspontina of the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia in Rome. The Devil tempts Jesus to challenge God's promise that he will be protected by angels, by throwing himself down.
In the third temptation, to the upper right, the Devil has taken Jesus to a high mountain where he shows him the beauties of the Earth. The Devil promises Jesus power over this domain, if he will deny God and bow down to the Devil. Jesus sends the Devil away from him, while angels come to minister to him.
In the foreground, a man whom Jesus has healed of leprosy presents himself to the High Priest at the temple, so that he may be pronounced clean. The young man carries a basin of water, in which is a bough of hyssop.
A woman brings two fowls for sacrifice and another woman brings cedar wood. These three ingredients were part of the ritual of cleansing of a leper. The high priest may symbolize Moses, who transmitted the Law, and the young man may symbolically represent Christ, who, according to the Gospels, was wounded and slain for the benefit of mankind, and healed through the Resurrection so that mankind might also be made spiritually clean, and receive salvation. In Christian symbolism, many stories, such as the healing of the leper, are perceived to prefigure the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, or other events in his life. More
The iconological program was the supremacy of the Papacy. Sandro's contribution included the Temptations of Christ (above), the Punishment of the Rebels (below),
The painting depicts three episodes and tells of a rebellion by the Hebrews against Moses and Aaron. On the right the rebels attempt to stone Moses after becoming disenchanted by their trials on their emigration from Egypt. Joshua has placed himself between the rebels and Moses, protecting him from the stoning. The center scene shows the rebellion with Korah and the conspirators being driven out by Moses and Aaron, as high priest wearing the papal diadem. To the left, the ground opens and the two principal conspirators sink into it. The children of Korah are spared the fate of their father.
The intended message of the painting is clear, no one should doubt the authority of the Pope over the Church. The power of the papacy was constantly being questioned at the time. More
and Trials of Moses (below).
The fresco shows several episodes of Moses' youth, taken from Exodus. It parallels the fresco on the opposite wall, also by Botticelli, which depicts the Temptations of Jesus (above).
On the right is Moses killing the Egyptian who had harassed a Hebrew, and fleeing to the desert (a parallel with the episode of Jesus defeating the Devil). In the next episode Moses fights the shepherds who were preventing Jethro's daughters (including his future wife, Zipporah) to water their cattle at the pit, and then takes the water for them. In the third scene, in the upper left corner, Moses removes his shoes and then receives from God the task to return to Egypt and free his people. Finally, in the lower left corner, he drives the Jews to the Promised Land.
Moses is always distinguishable in the scenes by his yellow dress and the green cloak. More
He returned to Florence, and "being of a sophistical turn of mind, he there wrote a commentary on a portion of Dante and illustrated the Inferno which he printed, spending much time over it, and this abstention from work led to serious disorders in his living."
This almost completely coloured silverpoint drawing gives us an impression of the magnificent way in which all the miniatures were to be produced. It is an illustration to the Inferno, canto XVIII. The main figures, Dante and Virgil, are emphasized by their vibrantly shining robes. While journeying through the ditches of Hell, they first encounter the souls of procurers and seducers being tortured by devils, and then those of sycophants and prostitutes, who are being made to suffer while immersed in ordure. More
This is a tale from the fifth book of Ovid's Fasti in which the wood nymph Chloris's naked charms attracted the first wind of Spring, Zephyr. Zephyr pursued her and as she was ravished, flowers sprang from her mouth and she became transformed into Flora, goddess of flowers. In Ovid's work the reader is told 'till then the earth had been but of one colour'. From Chloris' name the colour may be guessed to have been green - the Greek word for green is khloros, the root of words like chlorophyll - and may be why Botticeli painted Zephyr in shades of bluish-green. More
The masterpieces Primavera (c. 1482) (above) and The Birth of Venus (c. 1485) (below) 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.
The iconography of The Birth of Venus is similar to a description of the event in a poem by Angelo Poliziano, the Stanze per la giostra. Art historians who specialize in the Italian Renaissance have found a Neoplatonic interpretation. Botticelli represented the Neoplatonic idea of divine love in the form of a nude Venus.
Tradition associates the image of Venus in Botticelli's painting with the lovely Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci, with whom it is suspected both Lorenzo and his younger brother, Giuliano, were much enamored.
Simonetta was, not coincidentally, born in the Ligurian seaside town of Portovenere ('the port of Venus'). More
In later life, Botticelli was one of the followers of the deeply moralistic friar Girolamo Savonarola who preached in Florence from 1490 until his execution in 1498, though the full extent of Savonarola's influence remains uncertain.
The 'Mystic Nativity' shows angels and men celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. The Virgin Mary kneels in adoration before her infant son, watched by the ox and the ass at the manger. Mary's husband, Joseph, sleeps nearby. Shepherds and wise men have come to visit the new-born king. On earth the angels proclaim peace, joyfully embracing virtuous men while seven demons flee defeated to the underworld. More
"Like much of Florence, Botticelli had come under the sway of Savonarola and his art had transformed from the decorative to the deeply devout – The Mystical Nativity (c. 1500–01) (above), and the Mystic Crucifixion (below), bears all the signs of this change"
"The story that he burnt his own paintings on pagan themes in the notorious "Bonfire of the Vanities" 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 Savonarola, believing rather that the spiritual and emotional Virgins painted by Sandro followed directly from the teachings of the Dominican monk.
Three Miracles of Saint Zenobius belongs to this of four panels illustrating the life of the fifth-century bishop of Florence, all of which are notable for their architectural settings. At left, Zenobius meets a funeral procession and restores a dead youth to life. At center, he raises a man who was killed while bringing relics (in the casket) from Saint Ambrose. At right, Saint Eugenius receives water and salt blessed by Zenobius and then hastens across the square to revive a dead relative. More
Botticelli was already little employed in 1502. In 1504 he was a member of the committee appointed to decide where Michelangelo's David 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 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 upstaged by Michelangelo's.
The first nineteenth-century art historian to have looked with satisfaction at Botticelli's Sistine frescoes was Alexis-François Rio; Anna Brownell Jameson and Charles Eastlake were alerted to Botticelli, works by his hand began to appear in German collections, and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood incorporated elements of his work into their own. Walter Pater 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 on any other painter.
Botticelli never wed, and expressed a strong disliking to the idea of marriage, a prospect he claimed gave him nightmares.
The popular view is that he suffered from an unrequited love for Simonetta Vespucci, a married noblewoman. According to popular belief, she had served as the model for The Birth of Venus and recurs throughout his paintings, despite the fact that she had died years earlier, in 1476. Botticelli asked that when he died, 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.
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