Sandro Botticelli and his Bonfire of the Vanities
What is fresco painting?
Botticelli 1445 - 1510
I have written several articles on the Italian Renaissance and its different periods and artists, but one artist I have neglected to write about is actually one of my favorites. So here I offer you that article on one of my favorites, of course, right after Micheangelo, the master of all masters.
One of the most esteemed and masterful painters during his lifetime in Florence, Italy during the Early Renaissance, Sandro Botticelli has painted some of the most elegant, graceful and beautiful paintings during "the golden age" of the Renaissance.
Botticelli was born Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi in Florence, Italy in 1445. The name Botticelli comes from his elder brother Giovanni who was playfully called Il Botticelli (the little barrel) because of his rotund figure. His brother playfully attached his nickname to Sandro as he became known. Although, Sandro Botticelli was not of rotund figure as he had a strapping muscular and very masculine body. He put forth a handsome figure.
Sandro Botticelli was a draftsman as well as a painter and belonged to the Florentine school of painters during the Early Renaissance period. He worked under the patronage of the wealthy and powerful Lorenzo de' Medici (The Magnificent) of the de' Medici dynasty. They were wealthy, upper class merchants and as a family ruled Florence with an iron hand.
He was born to parents, Mariano di Vanni d'Amedeo Filipepi and his wife Smerlda who were poor Florentines. Bottichelli displayed a sharp wit and loved practical jokes as a child and was quite rambunctious. He was, therefore, apprenticed out to a goldsmith at a young age and by the age of fourteen he was apprenticed out to painter Fra Filippo Lippi in 1462.
He was influenced by the monumentality and largeness of Masaccio's paintings and from Lippi he was influenced to paint in a more intimate and detailed manner. Botticelli's own work is seen to represent the linear grace and lines of the Early Renissance painting.
It is believed Botticelli's first fresco painting was done in Esztergom, Hungary when the arch-bishop of Hungary, Janos Vitez, commissioned he and other Florentine Renaissance painters to complete this job on a church or cathedral.
By 1470, Botticelli had his own artists' workshop and this became the most creative and prolific time of his career. During this time his work was characterized by figures seen in low relief, drawn with clear contours with minimal contrasts of light and shadow which portrayed fully modeled forms.
It is also during this time that he painted his two most famous paintings, The Birth of Venus and La Primavera (The Spring). These two paintings are his most popular and best known works today.
The Adoration of the Magi, seen below, is also one of his paintings completed during this early period of his painting career and the roundness and fullness of his figures can be seen
Not only did Botticelli paint himself in The Adoration of the Magi, but it also contains the portraits of Cosimo de' Medici, his sons Piero and Giovani and his grandsons, Lorenzo (The Magnificent) and Giuliano. This painting is considered painted by Botticelli at his pinnacle as a painter and creative genius.
Although, many of Botticelli's earlier work is of a pagan nature and subject, he did paint many religious paintings and also painted many frescoes in churches throughout Florence. In 1481, Pope Sixtus IV summoned Botticelli and other Florentine and Umbrian artists to Rome to fresco the walls of the Sistine Chapel.
Botticelli's part was to fresco Temptations of Christ and Trial of Moses. His frescoes were later eclipsed by Michaelangelo's but Botticelli's are beautiful nonetheless. When Botticelli returned to Rome he wrote a commentary on Dante in 1481 and illustrated the Inferno.
Next, he painted his famed, La Primavera (The Spring, c.1482) and The Birth of Venus (1485). Both were seen hanging at the villla of Lorenzo di Pierfranceso de' Medici at Castello in the mid-16th century. Both of these paintings are said by art historians to epitomized the spirit of the Renaissance and Botticelli to be the most intelligent, creative and recognizable voice of that Early Renaissance.
La Primavera was originally painted for Lorenzo's (The Magnificent) townhouse in Florence and was later placed at Castello sometime by 1499. The Birth of Venus was commissioned by someone else for a different site and was kept behind closed doors for nearly fifty years because of its nude Venus. It was considered too provocative even by Renaissance standards to be properly viewed. Both of works were influenced by a Gothic realism tempered by Botticelli's study of the antique. Both are also fantasy fueled by his clever imagination and are visual poetry in motion.
Primavera became so popular a painting because it represented the festive spirit that flourished under the de' Medici rule of Florence. It represented also the mood of revival and sense of vision that existed throughout the Renaissance. At the time he painted this, Botticelli was thirty years old and Lorenzo (The Magnificent) was twenty-five years old. Youth ruled in Florence and Botticelli painted a generation before Michaelangelo. In this painting, Botticelli is rediscovering classical antiquity in all its glory.
These are the best examples of Botticelli's humanist philosophy and beliefs of the Renaissance times put into painting. There is a beauty and a grace of linear rhythm. And, during this time, Botticelli also worked on a major fresco with Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Filippino Lippi for Lorenzo (The Magnificent) at his villa near Voterra.
Botticelli's patronage by the de' Medici's brought him fame, wealth and artistic greatness in Florence and Rome during the Early Renaissance. He was well liked by the Florentine public and his paintings and art work were well sought after.
Botticelli and Savonarola
From 1490-1498 all of Florence fell under the spell, influence and pious teachings of Girolamo Savonarola, a moralistic Italian Domincan friar and preacher. He preached prophesies of civic glory for Florence and called for Christian renewal. He denounced church corruption, despotic rule (by the de' Medici's) and exploitation of the poor. He urged the people of Florence to establish a popular republic.
Savonarola was able to whip-up the Florentines into a frenzy through his public preachings and Savonarola and the Florentines ran the corrupt de' Medici family out of Florence into exile for approximately eight years until Savonarola fell into unfavor, was excommunicated by the pope in Rome and executed.
Botticelli, in his later life, was no different from the rest of the Florentines. The de' Medici's had been exiled from Florence for their corrupt business dealings and this left Botticelli without their patronage. For these years, Botticelli basically deserted painting, had no income and fell into great distress. He was so influenced by Savonarola, that it is believed he burned many of his paintings with pagan themes in the "bonfires of the vanities," which had become so popular throughout Florence during these times.
The few paintings he painted during this time were of the religious subject. Savonarola's influence is seen in his Madonna paintings in which Botticelli painted spiritual and emotional
Virgins. After Savonarola's execution in 1498, the de' Medici's returned to Florence, reinstituted their patronage of Botticelli and he continued to paint; however, his later work was on a much smaller scale. His figures were distorted and his use of color was reminiscent of the earlier work of Fra Angelico.
After his death, Botticelli's work was eclipsed by all the other painters of the Renaissasnce, especially by Michaelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. From his death until the mid-19th century, Botticelli's Renaissance paintings were forgotten and pushed aside.
It was not until the mid-19th century that art historian, Alexis-Francois Rio, recognized the greatness of Botticelli and his paintings and reintroduced Botticelli and his paintings to the general public.The Pre-Raphaelite's (Dante Gabriel Rossetti) favorably embraced Botticelli's paintings and work and began incorporating elements of his work in their own paintings.
From 1900-1920, several books were written about Botticelli and his paintings and so ironically, Botticelli's works experienced a 'renaissance' in the modern art world. Today his paintings are heralded for their beauty, graceful lines, and lighting.
Botticelli never married and was rumored to have said that the idea of marriage gave him nightmares. In reality, it is believed he experienced an unrequited love for a Simonetta Vespucci, a married noblewoman from Florence. It is said she was the model for the painting, The Birth of Venus, and her face recurs throughout many of his paintings.
Botticelli asked when he died (1510) that he be buried at her feet in the Church of Ognssanti in Florence, Italy and his wishes were carried out.