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Botticelli, Sandro ca. 1444–1510 Italian Painter

Botticelli, Sandro
ca. 1444–1510
Italian painter

Alessandro Filipepi, known as Botticelli, was a great painter from Florence, Italy. His work is typical of the Renaissance approach to the arts, which combined a new interest in the works of ancient Greece and Rome with a respect for religion. Although Botticelli often used themes from ancient mythology, he mixed and combined them to create a new vision rather than simply reproducing familiar images. At the same time, many of his works illustrated religious themes.


Botticelli's Life. Botticelli began his career as an apprentice* to the painter Fra Filippo Lippi. The influence of Lippi is visible in many of Botticelli's early paintings. By 1470 Botticelli had become a master painter in the city of Florence, and two years later he joined the Compagnia di San Luca, a society of Florentine artists. He opened a studio, where he produced his own work and took on students. His former master's son, Filippino Lippi, was his most successful pupil.

During the 1470s and 1480s Florence was a thriving center of the arts, thanks to the influence of Lorenzo de' Medici, the ruler of Florence. Many of Botticelli's patrons* belonged to Lorenzo's inner circle. These prominent Florentines commissioned a variety of works, including paintings to decorate some of the chapels in Florence.

Botticelli also traveled outside Florence to paint frescoes* in cathedrals and other buildings. In 1480 the pope asked Botticelli to join several artists who were decorating the walls of the newly built Sistine Chapel in Rome. In the decade that followed Botticelli produced some of his finest paintings, developing a style marked by smooth lines and rich colors.

Lorenzo de' Medici died in 1492, and the Medici family was exiled from Florence two years later. Soon after that, artistic activity in Florence began to decline. Projects for painters became scarce. Botticelli continued to paint during this period, but his style changed noticeably. His work became simpler and more severe, with a greater emphasis on moral and religious feeling.

By 1500 Botticelli had sunk into poverty and depression. He spent the last years of his life working on a series of illustrations for the Divine Comedy by the Italian poet Dante. However, he died before finishing the project. After Botticelli's death, his works were largely forgotten until the late 1800s, when critics recognized him as one of the great artists of the Renaissance.


Botticelli's Work. Botticelli's major paintings fall into two categories: works with religious themes and works based on ancient mythology. His best-known religious work, The Adoration of the Magi (1475–1476), portrays three foreign kings and their followers coming to pay tribute to the infant Christ. Botticelli gave several of the figures in the picture the faces of actual people, including himself and five members of the Medici family. The work won praise for the way the artist varied the positions of the figures' heads and for the detailed depictions of the king's followers.

Botticelli's mythological works are more typical of the Renaissance as a whole. Like other artists of the period, Botticelli combined ancient themes with a fresh vision. This approach reflects two important ideas of the Renaissance. The first is a view of the ancient world as a symbol of the glory of human achievement. The second is the importance of the artist as a thinking, creative individual.

Many of Botticelli's works deal with the subject of love, which was a popular theme in the Renaissance. In Primavera (Spring) (ca. 1478), he shows Venus, the Roman goddess of love, standing in a garden. Surrounding her are other figures from Roman mythology, including the three Graces and Flora, the goddess of flowers. This painting (also called The Realm of Venus) borrows images from several classical authors, including the Roman poets Ovid and Horace, instead of illustrating a familiar story.

Another important work, The Birth of Venus (ca. 1484), uses a scene described in mythology. It portrays the goddess rising out of the sea, standing on a shell. Botticelli painted Venus in the nude, possibly for the first time since the ancient period. He based this piece on a description from a work by Angelo Poliziano, a Florentine poet. Its theme, the birth of love, suggests that Botticelli may have created the painting for a wedding.

(See alsoArt; Art in Italy; Classical Antiquity. )

* apprentice

person bound by legal agreement to work for another for a specified period of time in return for instruction in a trade or craft

* patron

supporter or financial sponsor of an artist or writer

* fresco

mural painted on a plaster wall

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