17 May 2016

Sandro Botticelli – painter

Renaissance master was forgotten until the 19th century

Botticelli's The Birth of Venus
Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, painted in 1485
Early Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli died on this day in 1510 in Florence.

Years before his death he had asked to be buried in the Church of Ognissanti in Florence at the feet of a woman for whom it is believed he suffered unrequited love. 

She was Simonetta Vespucci, a married noblewoman, who had died in 1476. She is thought to have been the model for Botticelli’s major work, The Birth of Venus, which was painted years later in 1485, and that she also appeared in many of his other paintings.

After his death, Botticelli was quickly forgotten and his paintings remained in the churches and villas for which they had been created until the late 19th century, when people started to appreciate his work again.

Botticelli was born Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi in 1445. He was active during the golden age of painting in Florence under the patronage of Lorenzo de' Medici and Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici and was for a time apprenticed to both Fra Filippo Lippi and Verrocchio.

In 1481 Botticelli was summoned to Rome by Pope Sixtus IV to paint three frescoes for the Sistine Chapel. Another of his major works, Primavera, was painted just after this in 1482.

In later life Botticelli was influenced by the religious preacher, Savonarola, and his art became deeply devout. The Mystical Nativity, painted in 1500, is an example of this change of style.

After his death he was largely forgotten until the beginning of the 19th century when an English collector bought The Mystical Nativity and took it back home with him. The painting later went on show in Manchester, where it was viewed by a million people, and sparked renewed interest in the artist.

Chiesa di San Salvatore di Ognissanti
Chiesa di San Salvatore di Ognissanti
Travel tip:

Botticelli’s wishes were carried out and his tomb is in the Chiesa di San Salvatore di Ognissanti, a Franciscan church in Borgo Ognissanti in the centre of Florence. Botticelli’s fresco of Saint Augustine, painted in 1480, can be seen on the south wall of the church.

Travel tip:

Many of Botticelli’s works are in the Uffizi gallery in Florence where they are now admired by millions of visitors from all over the world. Work began in 1560 to create a suite of offices (uffici) for the administration of Cosimo I. The architect, Vasari, created a wall of windows on the upper storey and from about 1580 the Medici began to use this well-lit space to display their art treasures. This was the start of one of the most famous art galleries in the world. The present day Uffizi Gallery, in Piazzale degli Uffizi, is open from 8.15 am to 6.50 pm from Tuesday to Sunday.

More reading:

Savonarola and the Bonfire of the Vanities

Why Simonetta Vespucci was hailed as the embodiment of human perfection

The patron of the arts who sponsored Michelangelo and Botticelli


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