Seven Key Facts You Must Know About Sandro Botticelli

1. Botticelli Started Early

Facts About Botticelli: Sandro Botticelli, Fortitude, 1470, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

While Sandro Botticelli’s life remains shrouded in mystery, we do know that he received a more comprehensive education than many of his contemporaries, starting his apprenticeship at the young age of 14. Initially trained under the tutelage of Fra Filippo Lippi, Botticelli’s early works have often been confused with those of his master. However, Botticelli’s style also drew inspiration from Masaccio’s monumental paintings, and he learned from Lippi a more nuanced and intricate approach. Interestingly, it is speculated that Botticelli may have even traveled to Hungary to assist in the creation of a fresco in Esztergom, commissioned by János Vitéz, the archbishop of Hungary, in Lippi’s workshop.

2. He Had Great Patrons

Facts About Sandro Botticelli: Sandro Botticelli, Portrait of a Man with a Medal of Cosimo the Elder, c. 1474, Uffizi, Florence, Italy. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Among his patrons were Cosimo de Medici, Lorenzo the Magnificent, and Pope Sixtus IV – one of the most powerful men of his times. The Pope summoned Botticelli to fresco the walls of the Sistine Chapel. The iconological program was the supremacy of the Papacy. Sandro’s contributions included the Temptations of Christ, the Punishment of the Rebels, and the Trial of Moses.

3. He Was Heavily Impressed by Dante’s Divine Comedy

Facts About Sandro Botticelli: Sandro Botticelli, The Abyss of Hell, 1480s, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Rome, Italy. Museum’s website.

Vasari wrote that Botticelli spent a lot of time writing a commentary on a part of Dante’s work and creating illustrations for the Inferno. This caused him to neglect his other responsibilities and ultimately led to problems in his professional life.

4. Mad Prophet’s Influence Changed His Art

Facts About Sandro Botticelli: Sandro Botticelli, The Mystical Nativity, c. 1500, National Gallery, London, UK. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

In later life, Botticelli was one of the followers of the deeply moralistic friar Girolamo Savonarola who preached in Florence from 1490 until 1498. Some scholars claim that Botticelli’s art had transformed from the decorative to the deeply devout – The Mystical Nativity bears all the signs of this change. There is also a legend saying that he burnt his paintings on pagan themes in the notorious “Bonfire of the Vanities”.

Savonarola was known for his prophecies of civic glory, the destruction of secular art and culture, and his calls for Christian renewal. He was excommunicated in May 1497 and threatened to place Florence under an interdict. A trial by fire proposed by a rival Florentine preacher in April 1498 to test Savonarola’s divine mandate turned into a fiasco, and popular opinion turned against him. Savonarola and two of his supporting friars were imprisoned. Under torture, Savonarola confessed that he had invented his visions and prophecies. On May 23, 1498, Church and civil authorities condemned, hanged, and burned the three friars in the main square of Florence.

5. Botticelli Was Not One Person

Facts About Sandro Botticelli: Umberto Giunti, ‘Madonna of the Veil’, 1920–9, The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London, UK. The National Gallery.

It’s quite difficult now to decide on the attribution of many “Botticelli-like” works. Some of them might have been created by the master himself, others by his workshop, and others by his followers or copyists. In the 19th century, when in certain circles it was very fashionable to own a Botticelli, a lot of false attributions have been made. The moral is: always sign your works, otherwise, in the next hundreds of years, there will be problems.

6. Botticelli Was a Bachelor

Facts About Sandro Botticelli: Sandro Botticelli, Simonetta Vespucci as a Mythological Nymph, ca. 1480, Städel Museum, Frankfurt, Germany. Twitter.

Botticelli never wed and expressed a strong disliking of the idea of marriage, a prospect he claimed gave him nightmares.

The popular view is that he suffered from an unrequited love for Simonetta Vespucci, a married noblewoman. The legend says she had served as the model for The Birth of Venus and recurs throughout his paintings, even though she had died years earlier, in 1476. Some modern historians have also examined other aspects of his sexuality. In 1938, Jacques Mesnil discovered a summary of a charge in the Florentine Archives for November 16, 1502, which read simply “Botticelli keeps a boy”, under an accusation of sodomy. The charges were eventually dropped.

7. Botticelli Used an Early Form of “Photoshopping”

Facts About Sandro Botticelli: Sandro Botticelli, Venus and Mars, 1485, National Gallery London, UK.

The actor Peter Ustinov once remarked that had Botticelli been alive today, he would have been a sought-after artist for Vogue magazine. One of Botticelli’s defining features was his portrayal of women in his paintings, which some have likened to an early form of “Photoshopping”. In his works, he often elongated his models’ arms, narrowed their shoulders, and positioned them in impossible poses that perpetuated a masculine ideal of female beauty. While his approach may be seen as problematic today, there’s no denying that Botticelli’s artistry continues to captivate and inspire, leaving an indelible mark on the art world.

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