Open main menu

Wikipedia β

Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, known as Sandro Botticelli (Italian: [ˈsandro bottiˈtʃɛlli]; c. 1445[2] – May 17, 1510), was an Italian painter of the Early Renaissance. He belonged to the Florentine School under the patronage of Lorenzo de' Medici, a movement that Giorgio Vasari would characterize less than a hundred years later in his Vita of Botticelli as a "golden age". 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.

Sandro Botticelli
Sandro Botticelli 083.jpg
Probable self-portrait of Botticelli, in his Adoration of the Magi (1475)
Born Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi
c. 1445[1]
Florence, Republic of Florence, (now Italy)
Died May 17, 1510(1510-05-17) (aged c. 64)
Florence, Republic of Florence
Nationality Italian
Education Filippo Lippi
Andrea del Verrocchio
Known for Painting
Notable work Primavera
The Birth of Venus
The Adoration of the Magi
Other works
Movement Italian Renaissance

As well as the small number of mythological subjects which are his best known works, he painted a wide range of religious subjects and also some portraits. Botticelli's best-known works are The Birth of Venus and Primavera. He lived all his life in the same neighbourhood of Florence, with probably his only significant time elsewhere the months he spent painting in Pisa in 1474 and the Sistine Chapel in Rome in 1481-82.[3]

He has been described as "an outsider in the mainstream of Italian painting", who had a limited interest in many of the developments most associated with Quattrocento painting, such as human anatomy, perspective, landscape, and the use of classical art as a model, although his training enabled him to represent all these aspects of painting, without contributing to their development.[4]


Early lifeEdit

Via Borgo Ognissanti in 2008, the church halfway down on the right. Like the street, it has had a Baroque makeover since Botticelli's time.

Botticelli was born in the city of Florence in a house in the street still called Via Borgo Ognissanti. He was to live within a minute or two's walk of this all his life, and to be buried in the Ognissanti ("All Saints") parish church. His father was Mariano di Vanni d'Amedeo Filipepi, and Sandro was the youngest of his four children to survive into adulthood, all boys.[5] The date of his birth is not known, but his father's tax returns in following years give his age as two in 1447 and thirteen in 1458 so, allowing for arguments as to what these statements really meant, dates between 1444 and 1446 are given.[6]

His father was a tanner until 1460, before joining his son Antonio in a new business as a beater-out of gold leaf, which would have brought them into contact with artists.[7] Vasari reported that Botticelli was initially trained as a goldsmith.[8] He perhaps became an apprentice when he was about fourteen years old, which may indicate that he received a fuller education than many other Renaissance artists.

The Ognissanti neighbourhood was mostly "a modest one, inhabited by weavers and other workmen",[9] but there were some rich families, notably the very rich Rucellai, bankers and wool-merchants, headed by Giovanni di Paolo Rucellai, whose Palazzo Rucellai by Leon Battista Alberti, a landmark in Italian Renaissance architecture, was being built between about 1446 and 1451, Botticelli's earliest years. By 1458 Botticelli's family had moved to the same street as this, and were renting their house from another Rucellai, and there were other dealings involving the two families.[10]

In 1464 his father bought a house in Via Nuova nearby (modern Via della Porcellana), where Sandro was based from 1470, if not before, and lived in for the rest of his life.[11] He both lived and had his workshop there, by now a rather unusual practice, and despite his brother and his family also being in residence.[12] Here the notable family on the street were the Vespucci, including Amerigo Vespucci, born in 1454, after whom the Americas were named. The Vespucci were close Medici allies, and would become regular patrons of Botticelli.[13] The name Botticelli, meaning "little barrel" came from his brother Giovanni's nickname of "Botticello", "apparently from an unfortunate resemblance". By 1470 a document referred to the painter as "Sandro Mariano Botticelli", and it became his customary surname.[14]

Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist, c. 1470–1475, Louvre

From around 1461 or 1462 Botticelli was apprenticed to Fra Filippo Lippi, one of the top Florentine painters of the day, and one often patronized by the Medicis. He was rather conservative in many respects.[15] For this period Lippi was in fact based in Prato, just outside Florence, painting what is now Prato Cathedral, and it is there that Botticelli was trained. He had probably left Lippi by April 1467, when the master went to work in Spoleto.[16]

Career before RomeEdit

Lippi died in 1469 and by 1470 at the latest, but probably a year or two earlier, Botticelli had his own workshop, which by 1472 included the young Filippino Lippi, son of his master.[17] In June of that year he was commissioned by the judges of commercial cases to paint two panels from a set of the Seven Virtues for their court;[18] for some reason, only one, Fortitude (now Uffizi) was finished. Botticelli both matched his style and composition to the other panels by Piero del Pollaiuolo, and tried to outshine him "with fanciful enrichments so as to show up Piero's poverty of ornamental invention."[19]

There is often uncertainty in distinguishing between the contributions of Botticelli, the Lippis, and other pupils and imitators of Botticelli. Especially in smaller works such as Madonnas, all the leading painters were copied or imitated by their own workshops and a host of unidentified lesser artists.[20] Influenced also by the monumentality of Masaccio's painting, it was from Lippi that Botticelli learned a more intimate and detailed manner. 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. Lippi's synthesis of the new control of three-dimensional forms, tender expressiveness in face and gesture, and decorative details inherited from the late Gothic style were the strongest influences on Botticelli. A different influence was the new sculptural monumentality of the Pollaiuolo brothers.[21]

A large sacra conversazione altarpiece of about 1470-72 is in the Uffizi. It is not in good condition, but shows Botticelli had mastered the posing of a group of eight figures "with a skillful semblance of easy naturalness in a closed architectural setting".[22] One work that can be firmly dated is the narrow Saint Sebastian made for a pier in Santa Maria Maggiore and dedicated in January 1474; it is now in Berlin.[23] This was painted at the same time as the Pollaiuolo brothers' much larger altarpiece of the same saint, a showpiece of anatomical poses, with the saint shown in great pain.[24] Though very similar in pose, no doubt after Botticelli had seen the other painting, Botticelli's Sebastian seems calm and poised, following the legend that the arrows did not kill Sebastian, whose wounds were miraculously healed. The almost nude body is very carefully drawn; usually Botticelli was not greatly concerned with anatomical precision, and he painted relatively few nudes, though some are among his most famous works. The delicate winter landscape, reflecting the traditional date of the saint's martyrdom and feast-day in January, is also one of Botticelli's more impressive efforts.[25]

At the start of 1474 Botticelli was asked by the authorities in Pisa to join the work frescoing the Camposanto, a huge and prestigious project mostly being done by Benozzo Gozzoli, who spent nearly twenty years on it. Various payments up to September are recorded, but no work survives, and it seems that whatever Botticelli started was not finished. Whatever the outcome, that Vasari was approached from outside Florence demonstrates a growing reputation.[26]

Adoration of the Magi, 1475, 111 cm × 134 cm (44 in × 53 in)

The Adoration of the Magi for Santa Maria Novella (c. 1475–76, now in the Uffizi), was singled out for praise by Vasari, and was in a much-visited church, so spreading his reputation. It can be thought of as marking the climax of Botticelli's early style. Despite being commissioned by a money-changer, or perhaps money-lender, not otherwise known as an ally of the Medici, it contains the portraits of Cosimo de Medici, his sons Piero and Giovanni (all these by now dead), and his grandsons Lorenzo and Giuliano. There are also portraits of the donor and, in the view of most, Botticelli himself, standing at the front on the right. The painting was celebrated for the variety of the angles from which the faces are painted, and of their expressions.[27]

A large fresco for the customs house of Florence, that is now lost, depicted the execution by hanging of the leaders of the Pazzi conspiracy of 1478 against the Medici. It was a Florentine custom to humiliate traitors in this way.[28] This was Botticelli's first major fresco commission (apart from the abortive Pisa excursion), and may have led to his summons to Rome. The figure of Francesco Salviati, Archbishop of Pisa was removed in 1479, after protests from the Pope, and the rest were destroyed after the expulsion of the Medici and return of the Pazzi family in 1494.[29] Another lost work was a tondo of the Madonna ordered by a Florentine banker in Rome to present to Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga; this perhaps spread awareness of his work to Rome. A fresco in the Palazzo Vecchio, headquarters of the Florentine state, was lost in the next century when Vasari remodelled the building.[30]

In 1480 the Vespucci family commissioned a fresco figure of Saint Augustine for the Ognissanti, their parish church, and Botticelli's. Someone else, probably the order running the church,[31] commissioned Domenico Ghirlandaio to do a facing Saint Jerome; both saints were shown writing in their studies, which are crowded with objects. As in other cases, such direct competition "was always an inducement to Botticelli to put out all his powers", and the fresco, now his earliest to survive, is regarded as his finest by Hebert Lighbown.[32] The open book above the saint contains one of the practical jokes for which Vasari says he was known. Most of the "text" is scribbles, but one line reads: "Where is Brother Martino? He went out. And where did he go? He is outside Porta al Prato", probably dialogue overheard from the Uumiliati, the order who ran the church. Lightbown suggests that this shows Botticelli thought "the example of Jerome and Augustine likely to be thrown away on the Umiliati as he knew them".[33]

Sistine ChapelEdit

In 1481, Pope Sixtus IV summoned Botticelli and other prominent Florentine and Umbrian artists to fresco the walls of the newly completed Sistine Chapel. This large project was to be the main decoration of the chapel; most of the frescos remain, but are now greatly overshadowed and disrupted by Michelangelo's work of the next century, to make room for which some of them were destroyed.[34] The Florentine contribution is thought to be part of a peace deal between Lorenzo Medici and the papacy. After Sixtus was implicated in the Pazzi conspiracy hostilities had escalated into excommunication for Lorenzo and other Florentine officials and a small "Pazzi War".[35]

The iconographic scheme was a pair of cycles, facing each other on the sides of the chapel, of the Life of Christ and the Life of Moses, together suggesting the supremacy of the Papacy. Botticelli's contribution included three of the original fourteen large scenes: the Temptations of Christ, Youth of Moses and Punishment of the Sons of Corah,[36] as well as several of the imagined portraits of popes in the level above, and paintings of unknown subjects in the lunettes above, where Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling now is. He may have also done a fourth scene on the end wall opposite the altar, now destroyed.[37] Each painter bought a team of assistants from his workshop, as the space to be covered was considerable; each of the main panels is some 3.5 by 5.7 metres, and the work was done in a few months.[38]

Vasari implies that Botticelli was given overall artistic charge of the project, but modern art historians think it more likely that Pietro Perugino, the first artist to be employed, was given this role.[39] The subjects and many details to be stressed in their execution were no doubt handed to the artists by the Vatican authorities; the schemes present a complex and coherent programme asserting Papal supremacy, and are more unified in this than in their artistic style, although the artists follow a consistent scale and broad compositional layout, with crowds of figures in the foreground and mainly landscape in the top half of the scene. Allowing for the painted pilasters that separate each scene, the level of the horizon matches between scenes, and Moses wears the same yellow and green clothes in his scenes.[40]

Botticelli differs from his colleagues in imposing a more insistent triptych-like composition, dividing each of his scenes into a main central group with two flanking groups at the sides, showing different incidents.[41] In each the principal figure of Christ or Moses appears several times, seven in the case of the Youth of Moses.[42] In 1482 he returned to Florence, and no further trips away from home are recorded.

Mythological subjects of the 1480sEdit

Primavera (c. 1482), icon of the springtime renewal of the Florentine Renaissance, seen by Vasari at the summer palazzo of Pierfrancesco de' Medici. Left to right: Mercury, the Three Graces, Venus, Flora, Chloris, Zephyrus

The masterpieces Primavera (c. 1482) and The Birth of Venus (c. 1485) are not a pair, but are inevitably discussed together; both are in the Uffizi. They are among the most famous paintings in the world, and icons of the Italian Renaissance. As depictions of subjects from classical mythology on a very large scale they were virtually unprecedented in Western art since classical antiquity. They have been endlessly analysed by art historians, with the main themes being: the emulation of ancient painters and the context of wedding celebrations (generally agreed), the influence of Renaissance Neo-Platonism (somewhat controversial), and the identity of the commissioners (not agreed).

They were both seen by Vasari in the mid-16th century at the Villa di Castello, owned from 1477 by Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici, and until the publication in 1975 of a Medici inventory of 1499,[43] 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.[44]

In these works, the influence of Gothic 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 as possessing linear rhythm, there can be no doubt. The pictures feature Botticelli's linear style emphasized by the soft continual contours and pastel colors.[45]

Botticelli painted only a small number of mythological subjects, but these are now probably his best known works. A much smaller panel than those discussed before is his Mars and Venus in the National Gallery, London. This was of a size and shape to suggest that it was a spalliera, a painting made to fiffed into either furniture, or more likely in this case, wood panelling. The wasps buzzing around Mars' head suggest that it may have been painted for a member of his neighbours the Vespucci family, whose name means "little wasps" in Italian, and who featured wasps in their coat of arms. Mars lies asleep, presumably after lovemaking, while Venus watches as infant satyrs play with his military gear, and one tries to rouse him by blowing a conch shell in his ear. The painting was no doubt given to celebrate a marriage, and decorate the bedchamber.[46]

Pallas and the Centaur is clearly connected with the Medici by the symbol on Pallas' dress. The two figures are roughly life-size, and a number of specific personal, political or philosophic interpretations have been proposed to expand on the basic meaning of the submission of passion to reason.[47]

By the mid-1480s, many leading Florentine artists had left the city, some never to return. The rising star Leonardo da Vinci, who scoffed at Botticelli's landscapes, left in 1481 for Milan, the Pollaiolo brothers in 1484 for Rome, and Andrea Verrochio in 1485 for Venice.[48] The remaining leaders of Florentine painting, Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Filippino Lippi, worked on a major fresco cycle with Perugino, for Lorenzo the Magnificent's villa near Volterra. Botticelli painted many Madonnas, and frescos in Florentine churches. In 1491 he served on a committee to decide upon a façade for the Cathedral of Florence.

Madonnas, and tondosEdit

Paintings of the Madonna and Child, that is, the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus, were enormously popular in 15th-century Italy in a range of sizes and and formats, from large altarpieces of the sacra conversazione type to small paintings for the home. These smaller paintings were a steady source of income for painters at all levels of quality, and many were probably produced for stock, without a specific commission.

Botticelli painted Madonnas from the start of his career until at least the 1490s. He was one of the first painters to use the round tondo format, with the painted area typically some 115 to 145 cm across (about four to five feet). This format was more associated with paintings for palaces than churches, though they were large enough to be hung in churches, and some were later donated to them. Several Madonnas use this format, usually with a seated Virgin shown down to the knees, and though rectangular pictures of the Madonna outnumber them, Madonnas in tondo form are especially associated with Botticelli. He used the tondo format for other subjects, such as an early Adoration of the Magi in London.

Botticelli's Virgins are always beautiful, and are often accompanied by equally beautiful angels, or an infant Saint John the Baptist (the patron saint of Florence). Some feature flowers Many exist in several versions of varying quality, often with the elements other than the Virgin and Child different. Many of these were produced by Botticelli and his workshop, and others apparently by unconnected artists. When interest in Botticelli revived in the 19th century, it was initially largely in his Madonnas, which then began to be forged on a considerable scale.[49]

In the Magnificat Madonna in the Uffizi (118 cm or 46.5 inches across, c. 1483), Mary is writing down the Magnificat, a speech from the Gospel of Luke (1:46–55) where it is spoken by Mary upon the occasion of her Visitation to her cousin Elizabeth, some months before the birth of Jesus. She holds the baby Jesus, and is surrounded by wingless angels impossible to distinguish from fashionably-dressed Florentine youths.[50]


Botticelli painted a number of portraits, although not nearly as many as have been attributed to him. There are a number of idealized portrait-like paintings of women which probably do not represent a specific person (several closely resemble the Venus in his Venus and Mars).[51] Traditional gossip links these to the famous beauty Simonetta Vespucci, who died aged twenty-two in 1476, but this seems unlikely.[52] These figures represent a secular link to his Madonnas.

With one or two exceptions his small independent panel portraits show the sitter no further down the torso than about the bottom of the rib-cage. Women are normally in profile, full or just a little turned, whereas men are normally a "three-quarters" pose, but never quite seen completely frontally. Even when the head is facing more or less straight ahead, the lighting is used to create a difference between the sides of the face. Backgrounds may be plain, or show an open window, usually with nothing but sky visible through it. A few have developed landscape backgrounds. These characteristics were typical of Florentine portraits at the beginning of his career, but old-fashioned by his last years.[53]

Many portraits exist in several versions, probably most mainly by the workshop; there is often uncertainty in their attribution.[54] Often the background changes between versions while the figure remains the same. His male portraits have also often held dubious identifications, most often of various Medicis, for longer than the real evidence supports.[55] Lightbown attributes him only with about eight portraits of individuals, all but three from before about 1475.[56]

Botticelli often slightly exaggerates aspects of the features to increase the likeness.[57] He also painted portraits in other works, as when he inserted a self-portrait and the Medici into his early Adoration of the Magi. Several figures in the Sistine Chapel frescos appear to be portraits, but the subjects are unknown, although fanciful guesses have been made.[58] Large allegorical frescos from a villa show members of the Tornabuoni family together with gods and personifications; probably not all of these survive but ones with portraits of a young man with the Seven Liberal Arts and a young woman with Venus and the Three Graces are now in the Louvre.[59]

Dante, printing and manuscriptsEdit

Engraving by Baccio Baldini after Botticelli.
One of the few fully coloured pages of the Divine Comedy Illustrated by Botticelli, illustrating canto XVIII in the eighth circle of Hell. Dante and Virgil descending through the ten chasms of the circle via a ridge.

Botticelli had a lifelong interest in the great Florentine poet Dante Alighieri, which produced works in several media.[62] He is attributed with an imagined portrait.[63] According to Vasari, he "wrote a commentary on a portion of Dante", which is also referred to dismissively in another story in the Life,[64] but no such text has survived. Vasari wrote disapprovingly of the first printed Dante in 1481 with engravings by the goldsmith Baccio Baldini, engraved from drawings by Botticelli: "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."[65] Vasari, who lived when printmaking had become far more important than in Botticelli's day, never takes it seriously, perhaps because his own paintings did not sell well in reproduction.

The Divine Comedy consists of 100 cantos, and the printed text left space for one engraving for each canto. However, only 19 illustrations were engraved, and most copies of the book have only the first two or three. The first two, and sometimes three, are usually printed on the book page, while the later ones are printed on separate sheets that are pasted into place. This suggests that the production of the engravings lagged behind the printing, and the later illustrations were pasted into the stock of printed and bound books, and perhaps sold to those who had already bought the book. Unfortunately Baldini was neither very experienced nor talented as an engraver, and was unable to express the delicacy of Botticelli's style in his plates.[66] Two religious engravings are also generally accepted to be after designs by Botticelli.[67]

Botticelli later began a luxury manuscript illustrated Dante on parchment, most of which was taken only as far as the underdrawings, and only a few pages are fully illuminated. This manuscript has 93 surviving pages (32 x 47 cm), now divided between the Vatican Library (8 sheets) and Berlin (83), and represents the bulk of Botticelli's surviving drawings.[68]

Once again, the project was never completed, even at the drawing stage, but some of the early cantos appear to have been at least drawn but are now missing. The pages that survive have always been greatly admired, and much discussed, as the project raises many questions. The general consensus is that most of the drawings are late; the main scribe can be identified as Niccolò Mangona, who worked in Florence between 1482 and 1503, whose work presumably preceded that of Dante. Botticelli then appears to have worked on the drawings over a long period, as stylistic development can be seen, and matched to his paintings. Although other patrons have been proposed (inevitably including Medicis), many scholars think that Botticelli made the manuscript for himself.[69]

The MediciEdit

Venus and Mars, c. 1483. Tempera on panel, 69 cm × 173 cm (27.17 in × 68.11 in)

The Medici family were effective rulers of Florence, which was nominally a republic, throughout Botticelli's lifetime up to 1494, when the main branch were expelled. Lorenzo il Magnifico became the head of the family in 1469, just around the time Botticelli started his own workshop. He was a great patron of both the visual and literary arts, and encouraged and financed the humanist and Neoplatonist circle from which much of the character of Botticelli's mythological painting seems to come. In general Lorenzo does not seem to have commissioned much from Botticelli, preferring Pollaiuolo and others,[70] although views on this differ.[71] A Botticello who was probably Sandro's brother Giovanni was close to Lorenzo.[72]

Lamentation of Christ, variously dated from 1490 to 1500.

Although the patrons of many works not for churches remain unclear, Botticelli seems to have been used more by Lorenzo il Magnifico's two young cousins, his younger brother Giuliano,[73] and other families allied to the Medici. Tommaso Soderini, a close ally of Lorenzo, obtained the commission for the figure of Fortitude of 1470 which is Botticelli's earliest securely dated painting, completing a series of the Seven Virtues left unfinished by Piero Pollaiuolo. Possibly they had been introduced by a Vespucci who had tutored Soderini's son. Antonio Pucci, another Medici ally, probably commissioned the London Adoration of the Magi, also around 1470.[74]

Giuliano de' Medici was assassinated in the Pazzi conspiracy of 1478 (Lorenzo narrowly escaped, saved by his bank manager), and a portrait said to be Giuliano which survives in several versions may be posthumous, or with at least one version from not long before his death.[75]

Last yearsEdit

According to Vasari, Botticelli became a follower of the deeply moralistic Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola, who preached in Florence from 1490 until his execution in 1498:[76]

Botticelli was a follower of Savonarola's, and this was why he gave up painting and then fell into considerable distress as he had no other source of income. None the less, he remained an obstinate member of the sect, becoming one of the piagnoni, the snivellers, as they were called then, and abandoning his work; so finally, as an old man, he found himself so poor that if Lorenzo de' Medici ... and then his friends and ... [others] had not come to his assistance, he would have almost died of hunger.[77]

The extent of Savonarola's influence remains uncertain.[78] The story, sometimes seen, that he had destroyed his own paintings on secular sunjects in the notorious "Bonfire of the Vanities" is not told by Vasari. Vasari's assertion that Botticelli produced nothing after coming under the influence of Savonarola is not accepted by modern art historians. The Mystical Nativity, Botticelli's only painting to carry an actual date, if one cryptically expressed, comes from late 1500,[79] eighteen months after Savonarola died, and the development of his style can be traced through a number of late works, as discussed below. Many datings of works have a range up to 1505, though he did live a further five years.[80]

Botticelli returned to subjects from antiquity in the 1490s, with a few smaller works on subjects from ancient history containing more figures and showing different scenes from each story, including moments of dramatic action. These are the Calumny of Apelles (c. 1494),[81] and the pair of The story of Virginia and The Story of Lucretia, which are probably from around 1500.[82]

The Mystical Nativity (c. 1500–01)

The Mystical Nativity, a relatively small and very personal painting, perhaps for his own use, appears to be dated to the end of 1500.[83] Botticelli apparently produced relatively little work after 1501, or perhaps earlier. In late 1502 Isabella d'Este wanted a painting done in Florence. Her agent Francesco Malatesta wrote to inform her that her first choice, Perugino, was away, Filippino Lippi had a full schedule for six months, but Botticelli was free to start at once, and ready to oblige. She preferred to wait for Perugino's return.[84] This casts serious doubt on Vasari's assertion that he had abandoned painting under the influence of Savonarola, who was by then dead for some four years; but equally, he does not seem to have been in great demand.[85] In 1504 he was a member of the committee appointed to decide where Michelangelo's David would be placed.[86]

His later work, especially as seen in the four panels with Scenes from the Life of Saint 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. Botticelli has been compared to the Venetian painter Carlo Crivelli, some ten years older, whose later work also veers away from the imminent High Renaissance style, instead chosing to "move into a distinctly Gothic idiom".[87] Other scholars have seen premonitions of Mannerism in the simplified expressionist depiction of emotions in his works of the last years.

Ernst Steinmann (d. 1934) detected in the later Madonna's a "deepening of insight and expression in the rendering of Mary's physiognomy", which he attributed to Savonarola's influence (also pushing back the dating of some of these Madonnas.[88] More recent scholars are reluctant to assign direct influence, though there is certainly a replacement of elegance and sweetness with forceful austerity in the last period.

Botticelli continued to pay his dues to the Compagnia di San Luca (a confraternity rather than the artist's guild) until at least October 1505;[89] the tentative date ranges assigned to his late paintings run no further than this. By then he was aged sixty or more, in this period definitely into old age. Vasari, who lived in Florence from around 1527, says that Botticelli died "ill and decrepit, at the age of seventy-eight", after a period when he was "unable to stand upright and moving around with the help of crutches".[90] He died in May 1510, but is now thought to have been something under seventy at the time. He was buried outside the Ognissanti Church in a spot the church has now built over.[91] This had been his parish church as a child, and contained paintings by him.[92]

Other mediaEdit

Vasari mentions that Botticelli produced very fine drawings, which were sought out by artists after his death.[93] Apart from the Dante illustrations, only a small number of these survive, none of which can be connected with surviving paintings although they appear to be preparatory drawings rather than independent works. Some may be connected with the work in other media that we know Botticelli did. Three vestments survive with embroidered designs by him, and he developed a new technique for decorating banners for religious and secular processions, apparently in some kind of appliqué technique.[94]


In 1472 the records of the painter's guild record that Botticelli had only Filippino Lippi as an assistant, though another source records a twenty-eight year old, who had trained with Neri di Bicci. By 1480 there were three, none of them subsequently of note. Other names occur in the record, but only Lippi became a well-known master.[95] A considerable number of works, especially Madonnas, are attributed to Botticelli's workshop, or the master and his workshop, generally meaning that Botticelli did the underdrawing, while the assistants did the rest, or drawings by him were copied by the workshop.[96]

Botticelli's linear style was relatively easy to imitate, making different contributions within one work hard to identify,[97] though the quality of the master's drawing makes works entirely by others mostly identifiable, although the attribution of many works remains debated. Lightbown believed that "the division between Botticelli's autograph works and the paintings from his workshop and circle is a fairly sharp one", and that in only one major work on panel "do we find important parts executed by assistants";[98] but others might disagree.

The National Gallery have an Adoration of the Kings of about 1470, which they describe as begun by Filippino Lippi but finished by Botticelli, noting how unusual it was for a master to take over a work begun by a pupil.[99]

Private lifeEdit

Madonna of the Pomegranate (Madonna della Melagrana), c. 1487

Botticelli never married, and apparently expressed a strong dislike of the idea of marriage. An anecdote records that his patron Tommaso Soderini, who died in 1485, suggested he marry, to which Botticelli replied that a few days before he had dreamed that he had married, woke up "struck with grief", and for the rest of the night walked the streets to avoid the dream resuming if he slept again. The story concludes cryptically that Soderini understood "that he was not fit ground for planting vines".[100]

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. 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.[101] Many have firmly backed Mesnil,[102] but others have cautioned against hasty dismissal of the charge.[103] Yet while speculating on the subject of his paintings, Mesnil nevertheless concluded "woman was not the only object of his love".[104]

Later reputationEdit

After his death, Botticelli's 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,[105] and his frescos in the Sistine Chapel were upstaged by those of Michelangelo.[106]

There are a few mentions of paintings and their location in sources from the decades after his death. Vasari's Life is relatively short and, especially in the first edition of 1550, rather disapproving. According to the Ettlingers "he is clearly ill at ease with Sandro and did not know how to fit him into his evolutionary scheme of the history of art running from Cimabue to Michelangelo.[107] Nonetheless, this is the main source of information about his life, even though Vasari twice mixes him up with Francesco Botticini, another Florentine painter of the day. Vasari saw Botticelli as a firm partisan of the anti-Medici faction influenced by Savonarola, while Vasari himself relied heavily on the returned Medicis of his own day. Vasari also saw him as an artist who had abandoned his talent in his last years, which offended his high idea of the artistic vocation. He devotes a good part of his text to rather alarming anecdotes of practical jokes by Botticelli.[108]

In 1621 an picture-buying agent of Ferdinando Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua bought him a painting said to be a Botticelli out of historical interest "as from the hand of an artist by whom Your Highness has nothing, and who was the master of Leonardo da Vinci".[109] That mistake is perhaps understandable, as although Leonardo was only some six years younger than Botticelli, his style could seem to a Baroque judge to be a generation more advanced.

The Birth of Venus was displayed in the Uffizi from 1815, but is little mentioned in traveller's accouts of the gallery over the next two decades. The Berlin gallery bought the Bardi Altarpiece in 1829, but the National Gallery, London only bought a Madonna (now regarded as by his workshop) in 1855.[110]

The English collector William Young Ottley bought Botticelli's The Mystical Nativity in Italy, bringing it to London in 1799. But when he tried to sell it in 1811, no buyer could be found.[111] 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 in 1857, the Art Treasures Exhibition,[112] where among 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; Anna Brownell Jameson and Charles Eastlake were alerted to Botticelli as well, and works by his hand began to appear in German collections. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood incorporated elements of his work into their own.[113] 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.[114]

The main belt asteroid 29361 Botticelli discovered on 9 February 1996, is named after him.[115]



  1. ^ Ettlingers, 7. Other sources give 1446, 1447 or 1444–45.
  2. ^ Patrick, Renaissance and Reformation vol 1, 2007. Other sources give 1446, 1447 or 1444–45.
  3. ^ Ettlingers, 199; Lightbown, 53 on the Pisa work, which does not survive
  4. ^ Ettlingers, 199-204, 203 quoted
  5. ^ Lightbown, 17-19
  6. ^ Ettlingers, 7
  7. ^ Lightbown, 19
  8. ^ He was still in school in February 1458 (Lightbown, 19). According to Vasari, 147, he was an able pupil, but easily grew restless, and was initially apprenticed as a goldsmith.
  9. ^ Lightbown, 18
  10. ^ Lightbown, 18
  11. ^ Lightbown, 18-19
  12. ^ Ettlingers, 12
  13. ^ Lightbown, 18-19
  14. ^ Ettlingers, 7
  15. ^ Lightbown, 20
  16. ^ Lightbown, 22, 25
  17. ^ Dempsey, Hartt, 324; Legouix, 8
  18. ^ Lightbown, 52; they were the Sei della Mercanzia, a tribunal of six judges, chosed by the main Guilds of Florence.
  19. ^ Lightbown, 46 (quoted); Ettlingers, 19-22
  20. ^ Ettlingers, 17-18
  21. ^ Ettlingers, 18
  22. ^ Lightbown, 50
  23. ^ Lightbown, 50-51
  24. ^ the Pollaiuolo brothers' painting, now National Gallery, London
  25. ^ Lightbown, 51-52; Ettlingers, 22-23
  26. ^ Lightbown, 52
  27. ^ Lightbown, 65-69; Vasari, 150-152
  28. ^ Ettlingers, 10
  29. ^ Hartt, 325-326; Ettlingers, 10; Dempsey
  30. ^ Lightbown, 70
  31. ^ Lightbown, 77
  32. ^ Lightbown, 73-78, 74 quoted
  33. ^ Lightbown, 77 (different translation to same effect)
  34. ^ Shearman, 38-42, 47; Hartt, 326
  35. ^ Shearman, 47; Hartt, 326; Martines, Chapter 10 for the hostilities.
  36. ^ Shearman, 70-75; Hartt, 326-327
  37. ^ Shearman, 47
  38. ^ Hartt, 327; Shearman, 47
  39. ^ Hartt, 326-327; Lightbown, 92-94, thinks no one was, but that Botticelli set the style for the figures of the popes.
  40. ^ Lightbown, 90-92, 97-99, 105-106; Hartt, 327; Shearman, 47, 50-75
  41. ^ Hartt, 327
  42. ^ Lightbown, 99-105
  43. ^ Inventory publication
  44. ^ Smith, Webster: On the Original Location of the Primavera.
  45. ^ R. W. Lightbown (1978). Sandro Botticelli: Life and work. University of California Press. p. 25. ISBN 05-20033-72-8. During the colouring Botticelli strengthened many of the contours by means of a pointed instrument, probably to give them the bold clarity so characteristic of his linear style. 
  46. ^ Lightbown, 164-168; Dempsey; Ettlingers, 138-141, with a later date.
  47. ^ Lightbown, 148-152; Legouix, 113
  48. ^ Ettlingers, 11
  49. ^ Ettlingers, 80
  50. ^ Ettlingers, 80
  51. ^ Campbell, 6
  52. ^ Ettlingers, 164
  53. ^ Ettlingers, 171; Lightbown, 54-57
  54. ^ Ettlingers, 156
  55. ^ Ettlingers, 156, 163-164, 168-172
  56. ^ Lightbown, 54. This appears to exclude the idealized females, and certainly the portraits included in larger works.
  57. ^ Campbell, 12
  58. ^ Ettlingers, 156-164
  59. ^ Campbell, 56, 136-136
  60. ^ The evidence for this identification is in fact slender to non-existent. Ettlingers, 168; Legouix, 64
  61. ^ Davies, 98-99
  62. ^ Lightbown, 16-17, 86-87
  63. ^ Dante's features were well-known, from his death mask and several earlier paintings. Botticelli's aquiline version influenced many later depictions.
  64. ^ Vasari, 152, 154
  65. ^ Vasari, 152, a different translation
  66. ^ Lightbown, 89; Dempsey
  67. ^ Lightbown, 302
  68. ^ Lightbown, 280; some are drawn on both sides of the sheet.
  69. ^ Dempsey; Lightbown, 280-282, 290
  70. ^ Hartt, 323
  71. ^ Lightbown, 11, 58; Dempsey
  72. ^ Lightbown, 58
  73. ^ Lightbown, 58-59
  74. ^ Lightbown, 42-50; Dempsey
  75. ^ Lightbown, 58-65, believes it is Giuliano, and the Washington version probably pre-dates his death; the Ettlingers, 168, are sceptical it is Giuliano at all. The various museums with versions still support the identification.
  76. ^ Vasari, 152
  77. ^ Vasari, 152
  78. ^ Hartt, 335-336; Davies, 105-106
  79. ^ Ettlingers, 14
  80. ^ Legouix, 18; Dempsey
  81. ^ Lightbown, 230-237; Legouix, 114;
  82. ^ Lightbown, 260-269; Legouix, 82-83
  83. ^ Davies, 103-106
  84. ^ Lightbown, 302
  85. ^ Ettlingers, 14; Legouix, 18
  86. ^ Legouix, 18; Ettlingers, 203
  87. ^ Legouix, 11-12; Dempsey
  88. ^ Steinmann, Ernst, Botticelli, 26-28
  89. ^ Lightbown, 303-304
  90. ^ Vasari, 154
  91. ^ Lightbown, 305
  92. ^ Lightbown, 17
  93. ^ Vasari, 155
  94. ^ Lightbown, 296-298
  95. ^ Legouix, 8; Lightbown, 311, 314
  96. ^ Lightbown, 314
  97. ^ Ettlingers, 79
  98. ^ Lightbown, 312
  99. ^ National Gallery page; see Davies, 97 for a slightly different view, and Lightbown, 311 for a very different one.
  100. ^ Lightbown, 44
  101. ^ Louis Crompton, Homosexuality and Civilization, Harvard University, 2003
  102. ^ Michael Rocke, Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence, Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 9780195069754
  103. ^ Andre Chastel, Art et humanisme a Florence au temps de Laurent le Magnifique, Presses Universitaires de France, 1959
  104. ^ Jacques Mesnil, Botticelli, Paris, 1938
  105. ^ Primavera and The Birth of Venus remained in the Grand Ducal Medici villa of Castello until 1815. (Levey 1960:292
  106. ^ Ettlingers, 204
  107. ^ Ettlingers, 203
  108. ^ Lightbown, 16-17; Vasari, 147-155
  109. ^ Lightbown, 14
  110. ^ Ettlingers, 204
  111. ^ Ettlingers, 204
  112. ^ Davies, 106
  113. ^ Pre-Raphaelite Art in the Victoria & Albert Museum, Suzanne Fagence Cooper, p.95-96 ISBN 1-85177-394-0
  114. ^ Michael Levey, "Botticelli and Nineteenth-Century England" Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 23.3/4 (July 1960:291–306); Ettlingers, 205
  115. ^ "29361 Botticelli (1996 CY)". JPL Small-Body Database Browser. Jet Propulsion Laboratories. 2012-04-09. Retrieved 2014-02-19. 


  • Campbell, Lorne, Renaissance Portraits, European Portrait-Painting in the 14th, 15th and 16th Centuries, 1990, Yale, ISBN 0300046758
  • Davies, Martin, Catalogue of the Earlier Italian Schools, National Gallery Catalogues, 1961, reprinted 1986, ISBN 0901791296
  • Dempsey, Charles, "Botticelli, Sandro", Grove Art Online, Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 15 May. 2017. subscription required
  • "Ettlingers": Leopold Ettlinger with Helen S. Ettlinger, Botticelli, 1976, Thames and Hudson (World of Art), ISBN 0500201536
  • Hartt, Frederick, History of Italian Renaissance Art, (2nd edn.)1987, Thames & Hudson (US Harry N Abrams), ISBN 0500235104
  • Legouix, Susan, Botticelli, 2004 (revd edn), Chaucer Press, ISBN 1904449212
  • Lightbown, Ronald, Sandro Botticelli: Life and Work, 1989, Thames and Hudson
  • Martines, Lauro, April Blood: Florence and the Plot Against the Medici, 2003, Johnathan Cape, ISBN 0224061674
  • Shearman, John, in Pietrangeli, Carlo, et al., The Sistine Chapel: The Art, the History, and the Restoration, 1986, Harmony Books/Nippon Television, ISBN 051756274X
  • Vasari, selected & ed. Malcom Bull, Artists of the Renaissance, Penguin 1965 (page nos from BCA edn, 1979). Vasari Life on-line (in a different translation)

Further readingEdit

  • N. Pons: Botticelli: Catalogo completo, Milan, 1989, with complete illustrations
  • C. Caneva: Botticelli: Catalogo completo, Florence, 1990, with complete illustrations

External linksEdit