BOTTICELLI (1445 - 1510)


       Among the painters of the poetic current in the late fifteenth century, Sandro Botticelli stands alone in depth of feeling and delicacy of style. His concentration on line is so deep and his research into the unreal is so enchanting, that it is difficult to believe that he studied with Filippo Lippi, a follower of Masaccio. Although aloof from scientific current and criticized by the young Leonardo da Vinci Botticelli remained the leading painter resident in Florence in the 1480s and 1490s. Before him the old masters had drawn the inspiration for their works from the Bible. Botticelli delighted in myths, fables, and poetry, his nature was imaginative. The artist was the first to make his painting a means for the delight of the secular as well as the religious world.

      Botticelli was closely associated with the Medici and his fortune paralleled theirs. After the death of Lorenzo, that ended the world in which Botticelli had found honours and fame, the painter was greatly impressed by the preaching of Savonarola. Soon he became an ardent disciple of this great prophet. When Savonarola demanded that bonfires should be made of the «profane pictures», he contributed many of his works of art to the bonfire pile. In his later life Botticelli turned to a religious style, and after 1500 gave up painting altogether.

       Botticelli's most celebrated pictures, the Primavera (The Al­legory of Spring) and the Birth of Venus were painted at a slight distance from each other in time, the first on panel, the second on canvas. Later the two paintings were considered companion pieces. Both have been interpreted in different ways. The Primavera with its ambiguous but clear meaning, is far from being the simple pagan mythology that it appears to be at first sight. No explanation of the Primavera is wholly successful. Probably the Primavera symbolizes Lorenzo Medici’s real wedding in 1482.

       A Christianized Venus, modestly dressed and resembling Botticelli's Madonnas, reigns in the midst of a dark grove of trees bearing golden fruit. At the right Zephyrus, the wind-god, pursues the nymph Chloris; flowers issue from her mouth. She is transformed into the goddess Flora, clothed in a flower- covered gown, from its folds she strews blossoms upon the lawn. At the left Mercury is dispelling tiny clouds from the golden apple, the symbol of the Medici family. Between Mercury and Venus the Three Graces dance in a ring. These lovely creatures are shown in transparent garments. This painting is a complex allegory. As in all Botticelli’s mature works his figures are extremely attenuated, with long necks, torsos, arms and sloping shoulders. Their beautiful faces and graceful bodies and limbs seem almost bloodless and weightless, their white feet touch the ground so lightly that not a flower or a leaf is bent. The indivi­dual forms are perfectly modelled. Botticelli’s representation of figures in motion is far beyond anything that preceded him and has never been excelled. The composition is based on an inter­weaving of linear patterns, drapery folds, streaming or braided hair, trunks, and leaves. Such a picture, both in content and style, represents a withdrawal from naturalism of the Early Florentine Renaissance.

      The Birth of Venus may show the effects of Botticelli's residence in Rome in the early 1480s. Venus, according to the ancient myth, was bom from the sea. Upon a sea represented without concern for space, and dotted with little V-shaped marks for waves, Botticelli’s Venus stands lightly in a beautiful cockleshell, wafted by the wind-god, toward a highly stylized shore. This Venus, proportioned like the Three Graces, differs from the splendid Venuses of classical antiquity. She uses the curving streams of her long hair to cover her nakedness. She can't wait for the cloak that one of the Hours is about to spread around her. Botticelli’s allegory is related to the Christian tradi­tion with which he tried to reconcile the pagan legend. The composition has been compared to medieval and Renaissance representations of the Baptism of Christ. It may be argued that this is a rather artificial interpretation, but it is an interpretation that made sense to the fifteenth century.

       Later, under the impact of Savonarola's preaching and the troubles besetting Italy Botticelli’s imagery becomes less esoteric and more Christian. The best possible example is the Mystic Nativity. In order to emphasize the importance of the Madonna and Child and the relative unimportance of the humans, Botticelli has reverted to the early medieval device of disregar­ding scale and perspective and grading the actual sizes of the figures according to their importance; hence the Madonna is far the largest although placed apparently in the middle distance. The feature that links Botticelli most firmly with the Florentine artistic heritage is his linear perspective.

         The unreality of Botticelli is a blind alley in the development of Renaissance painting, the brilliance and beauty of his line are not, and it may have influenced the pictorial style of Miche­langelo.




Primavera (The Allegory of Spring)— «Весна»

Birth of Venus— «Рождение Венеры»

Baptism of Christ — Крещение Христа

Mystic Nativity— «Мистическое Рождество»