The Man Who Burned His Paintings: Who Was Sandro Botticelli
Spanning the 15th and 16th centuries, the Italian Renaissance was a critical epoch that heralded modernity by cultivating an all-encompassing culture of rebirth across Europe. This period is renowned for transforming Italy from its medieval roots into one of history’s most influential forces. The influence of the period continues to be felt today.
The classic Palladian window was first designed in Italy during the Renaissance, with countless other features of this era’s architecture. Asymmetrical windows and doorways, columns from Classical orders and pilasters, triangular pediments, square lintels with arches above them, and domes for ceilings – all punctuated by niches showcasing sculptures make up the remarkable architectural aesthetic of the time. These influences can even improve the look of your home from the outside.
The period also saw art flourishing as a direct result of the newfound wealth and power it embodied. Many of the early Italian Renaissance artists came from Florence. The city is celebrated as the nucleus of the Renaissance – especially for its paintings. Many of these works of therapeutic arts and crafts can improve mental health, making them essential pieces for any home.
One of the artists who lived and worked in Florence was Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi or Sandro Botticelli.
The famous Italian artist Botticelli’s moniker was inspired by his elder brother Giovanni who went by the pseudonym “Botticello,” which translates to “Little Barrel.” The young Botticelli was wise beyond his years, making him quickly uninterested in the mundane lectures at school.
With a sharp wit and a love of pranks, he gained recognition as an energetic and impulsive child. Fortunately for everyone, this precocious talent was acknowledged: he left school to serve as an apprentice instead.
As with numerous Renaissance painters, most facts and information about Botticelli were derived from Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors & Architects—where they are further corroborated using additional documents.
Young Italian Painter
It is believed that Sandro Botticelli’s initial apprenticeship was in Maso Finiguerra’s goldsmith studio. Since Sandro Botticelli yearned to paint, his tanner father moved him from a goldsmith apprenticeship. He put him under the tutelage of Fra Filippo Lippi– one of the leading Florentine painters at the time.
The artistic legacy of Lippi, which first emerged during the Florentine Renaissance, profoundly impacted Botticelli’s style. Even his late works show clear evidence of this influence. Through Lippi, Botticelli was able to master panel painting and fresco techniques and gain an impressive mastery over linear perspective.
Drawing inspiration from Lippi, Botticelli adopted a variety of styles and compositions that have become iconic to his name. His choice of clothing was always delicate yet imaginative, with an inclination for lighter colors that art enthusiasts can still sense in today’s works.
Furthermore, he developed complex color schemes imbued with profound resonance and strong linearity among forms.
After his mentor departed from Florence, Botticelli strived to refine the comparatively fragile figural style he had acquired. To do so, he studied the sculptural approach of Antonio Pollaiuolo and Andrea del Verrocchio – great Florentine painters prominent in the 1460s- and developed figures with powerful roundness under their influence.
Botticelli shifted away from Lippi’s delicate style and replaced it with a passionate, dynamic naturalism that was always guided by the idea of perfect beauty. By 1470 he had already earned his place in Florence as an independent artist running his studio. He dedicated himself to art, never marrying or leaving home, even after becoming successful.
Botticelli joined the Compagnia di San Luca in 1472 and employed Filippino Lippi, son of his late teacher. Unconventionally, he completed Filippino’s interpretation of ‘The Adoration of the Kings’ instead of following a custom where an apprentice would finish a painting by their master artist.
Fra Filippo’s mentorship allowed Botticelli to gain excellent connections, as some of the leading Florentine families, like the Medici, supported his master. Subsequently, Botticelli spent most of his life serving this family and their associates – for whom he produced several ambitious secular works. One of these works became one of Botticelli’s most famous paintings, the ‘Primavera.’
Lorenzo de Medici
Botticelli established his studio in 1470, and eight years later, he reached the zenith of his career. In 1481, along with Ghirlandaio, Rosselli, and Perugino, he was one of the Italian painters Pope Sixtus IV requested to decorate the Sistine Chapel – thus propelling him into international fame.
This major project was intended to be the primary embellishment of the chapel.
The Botticelli paintings consisted of a series of portraits featuring popes entitled Temptation of Moses, Temptation of Christ, and Conturbation of Laws Moses. It is theorized that this Florentine contribution formed part of an agreement between Lorenzo de Medici and the papacy.
Contributions to the Renaissance
During the peak of his success, Sandro Botticelli was one of the most sought-after artists in Italy. His graceful portrayals of Madonna and Child were beloved by many, as were his other works, such as altarpieces and life-size mythological paintings. His art captivated audiences during his lifetime, making him a renowned figure in Italian art history.
Medici Family Patronage
Botticelli’s excellent talent in portraiture earned him the patronage of the prominent Medici family, particularly Lorenzo de’ Medici and his brother Giuliano de Medici. Botticelli created a portrait of Giuliano and posthumous portraits of Piero and Cosimo de Medici to honor them.
Botticelli portrayed the four Medicis as Three Kings and an attendant figure in the Adoration of the Magi from Santa Maria Novella. Botticelli also created a banner for Giuliano in 1475 to illustrate Pallas stamping out flames of love with Cupid bound to an olive tree. Although this work has been lost, it proves that he used Classical mythology in his grand mythological paintings to express medieval courtly love.
The period from 1478 to 90 saw Botticelli as his most creative. These years were when he produced his famous mythological works, such as ‘The Birth of Venus’ and ‘Venus and Mars.’ Two of Botticelli’s paintings are at the Uffizi Gallery, a national gallery in Florence.
These works saw Botticelli successfully combining a decorative use of line with elements of the classical tradition, seen in the harmony of his composition and the supple contours of his figures. His early goldsmith training possibly influenced the use of lines in decorating his Early Renaissance painting.
During the latter portion of his life, Botticelli experienced a transformation in both style and expression. The upheaval brought on by Italy’s invasion and plagues during the 1490s caused him to deviate from his ornamental charm and adopt a more simplistic approach that was seen as rough-edged compared to prior works.
His newfound preference for creations with intense religious depth did not compare well against contemporaries such as Michelangelo or Raphael, who wielded intricate artistic finesse. But he also had a good collection of religious paintings, including the Mystic Crucifixion and the Bardi Altarpiece.
Botticelli created numerous religious scenes, including the iconic Madonna of the Magnificat. The painting is in a circular format known as tondo, and it depicts Mary writing her Christian hymn of praise, Magnificat, while with infant Jesus on her lap and two angels crowning above them.
Some of Botticelli’s paintings may have been made in tribute to Lucrezia Tornabuoni, the wife of Piero de Medici. Paintings such as these are seen today with great value and appreciation. In 2013, The Rockefeller Madonna – once owned by John D. Rockefeller Jr. – was sold at Christie’s for a record price of $10.4 million! It is no surprise why Botticelli continues to be celebrated centuries after his death, given the incredible prices attained by some of his works.
Influence of Girolamo Savonarola
As he grew older, Botticelli embraced the passionate doctrine of Friar Savonarola, and his later artworks demonstrate a religious sentiment that hints at his probable part in Florence’s religious and political turbulence. His most ambitious painting during that period, the Mystic Nativity or Mystical Nativity, showcased this feeling of impending doom.
Some art historians suggest that the picture heralded a return to medieval painting customs. This classical art is now in possession of the National Gallery of London.
Although Botticelli was close to Lorenzo Medici, he also followed the Dominican priest Girolamo Savonarola – who opposed the Medici patriarch and encouraged Christian revivalism and the destruction of non-religious artworks and cultural objects.
Bonfire of Vanities
Savonarola orchestrated the notorious bonfire of the vanities on February 7, 1497. At this point, many people believed that books and artworks considered immoral were set ablaze as part of this event. The situation pressured the Florentine painter into burning his mythological pictures at the behest of the priest. However, its true nature has since been forgotten to time.
Botticelli renounced his painting career and quickly fell into great despair, for he had no other means to generate income. Undauntedly, he stayed a devoted member of the sect, qualifying as one of the Piagnoni, or people known as “snivellers.” Subsequently, in his later years, Botticelli was reduced to such poverty that without Lorenzo’s aid along with assistance from others -he would have certainly starved.
After 1501, or possibly earlier, Botticelli’s production of artwork began to decrease significantly. The limited output could stem from his devotion to creating the drawings for Dante’s manuscript. Then again, in 1504, he was part of a committee determining where Michelangelo’s David statue should be positioned. Nevertheless, Botticelli had already begun producing less work before this date and into 1495.
Botticelli continued to make payments for his membership in the Compagnia di San Luca until October 1505, when we believe he finished his last painting. At this point, Botticelli was at least sixty years old and considered elderly by society’s standards. His masterpieces during this later period are a testament to how creativity does not diminish with age!
Vasari states that Botticelli died at the age of seventy-eight after a period of physical incapability. However, it is assumed he was under 70 when death came for him in May 1510. His remains were interred with his family outside Ognissanti Church. The church was the same place where his baptism took place. It also housed his illustrious Saint Augustine in His study – an area subsequently built over by the church.
Sandro Botticelli was one of the most renowned Italian painters of the Renaissance. His works, from religious scenes to mythological paintings, have become iconic and highly sought after throughout centuries. Through his mentor Fra Filippo Lippi’s influence, he developed a style that combined classical elements with decorative lines to create harmonious compositions full of graceful figures. Even today, art enthusiasts continue to celebrate Botticelli as his artworks fetch remarkable prices at auctions worldwide – proof of how much previous generations have appreciated his talent.