Sandro Botticelli (about 1445 – 1510) | National Gallery, London

Sando botticelli

At the height of his fame, Florentine painter and draftsman Sandro Botticelli was one of Italy’s most esteemed artists. his elegant paintings of the virgin and child, his altarpieces, and his life-size mythological paintings, such as ‘venus and mars’, were immensely popular in his lifetime.

The son of a tanner, he was born Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi, but was given the nickname ‘botticelli’ (derived from the word ‘botticello’ meaning ‘little barrel of wine’). Intelligent beyond his years, the young Botticelli was easily bored at school. He was known for his quick wit and love of practical jokes, and he quickly gained a reputation as a restless, hyperactive, and impatient child. Fortunately, his early talent was recognized and he was withdrawn from school and sent to work as an apprentice. Botticelli is believed to have first trained with Maso Finiguerra, a goldsmith, before entering the studio of artist Fra Filippo Lippi. He began his career painting frescoes for Florentine churches and cathedrals, and worked with the painter and printmaker Antonio del Pollaiuolo. around 1470, he had his own workshop.

to Rome and back

in 1472, botticelli joined the compagnia di san luca, the guild of florentine painters. He also employed Filippino Lippi, the son of his late teacher, as his apprentice, and broke with convention by completing the Philippine version of “Adoration of the Kings.” it was much more common for an apprentice to finish a master’s painting of him than the other way around. Botticelli’s apprenticeship with Fra Filippo provided him with excellent contacts. His master had enjoyed the patronage of some of Florence’s leading families, such as the Medici. Botticelli for his part spent almost his entire life working for the Medici family and his circle of friends, for whom he painted some of the most ambitious secular pictures of him such as ‘spring’ (at the uffizi, florence). botticelli’s star was on the rise. such was his reputation that, in 1481, he was summoned by the pope to rome to help decorate the walls of the recently completed sistine chapel in the vatican. he painted frescoes depicting scenes from the life of moses and the temptations of christ and was also responsible for a series of papal portraits. The nature of this task shows how highly regarded he was at the time, and it was the only time he is known to have worked outside of Florence.


one year later, botticelli returns to florence, to continue the most prolific stage of his career. The period from 1478 to 1490 saw Botticelli at his most creative. This was the period during which he produced his famous mythological works, such as ‘The Birth of Venus’ (at the Uffizi, Florence) and ‘Venus and Mars’. in these he successfully combined a decorative use of line (possibly due in large part to his initial training as a goldsmith) with elements of the classical tradition, seen in the harmony of his composition and the supple contours of the figures. of him.

religion and politics

during the last 15 years of his life, botticelli’s work seemed to suffer a crisis of style and expression. The 1490s were a turbulent decade: doctors had been driven out of Florence, and the peace of Italy was disrupted by invasions and plagues. Botticelli rejected the ornamental charm of his earlier works in favor of a more simplistic approach that, by contrast, appeared crude and heavy-handed. These later paintings, with their profound moral and religious overtones, also drew comparisons to the sophisticated aesthetics of artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael. According to Vasari in his book ‘The Lives of the Artists’, in his later years Botticelli became a follower of the fanatical Dominican friar Savonarola, and the pious sentiment of his later works would seem to suggest a certain involvement in the religious and political upheavals of Florence. of the time. ‘Mystical Nativity’ is Botticelli’s most ambitious painting of this period and reflects this sense of apocalyptic foreboding.

last years

Vasari also suggests that when his work fell out of favor, Botticelli became melancholic and depressed. he had never been married, preferring the company of family and friends. Having always been known for his good humor and quick wit, the image of Botticelli’s later years as a rapid descent into poverty, isolation and mental anguish is poignant. After his death, his name all but disappeared until the late 19th century, when a growing appreciation for Florentine arts and culture sparked a renewed interest in his work.

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