The Early Renaissance


   

 


Botticelli
        

 
   
Renaissance Art Map
 
   
   
Exploration:
Candro Botticelly  "Visual Poetry"
 
 
    Early life and career    
    Devotional paintings     
    Secular patronage and works    
    Mythological paintings    
    How the Nymph became a Goddess    
    Botticelli: lyrical precision    
    Late works    
    Illustrations for Dante's Divine Comedy and Dravings    
         
    APPENDIX: Venus - The Evening Star
 
   

 


Sandro Botticelli

1445-1510
Italy

 
 
 

 

 

            

Mythological paintings.

Many of the commissions given to Botticelli by these rich patrons were linked to Florentine customs on the occasion of a marriage, which was by far the most important family ceremony of that time. A chamber was usually prepared for the newly married couple in the family palace of the groom, and paintings were mounted within it. The themes of such paintings were either romantic, exalting love and lovers, or exemplary, depicting heroines of virtuous fame. Botticelli's earliest known commission of this kind was for the marriage of Antonio Pucci's son Giannozzo in 1483, a set of four panels narrating a story from Boccaccio. Mythological figures had been used in earlier Renaissance secular art, but the complex culture of late Medicean Florence, which was simultaneously infused with the romantic sentiment of courtly love and with the humanist enthusiasm for classical antiquity and its vanished artistic traditions, employed these mythological figures more fully and in more correctly antiquarian fashion. A new mythological language became current, inspired partly by classical literature and sculpture and by descriptions of lost ancient paintings and partly by the Renaissance search for the full physical realization of the ideal human figure.

Among the greatest examples of this novel fashion in secular painting are four of Botticelli's most famous works: the "Primavera" (c. 1477-78; Uffizi), "Pallas and the Centaur" (c. 1485; Uffizi), "Venus and Mars" (c. 1485; National Gallery, London), and "The Birth of Venus" (c. 1485; Uffizi). The "Primavera," or "Allegory of Spring," and "The Birth of Venus" were painted for the villa of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici at Castello. All four of these panel paintings have been variously interpreted by modern scholarship. The figures certainly do not enact a known myth but rather are used allegorically to illustrate various aspects of love: in the "Primavera," its kindling and its fruition in marriage; in "Pallas," the subjugation of male lust by female chastity; in "Venus and Mars," a celebration of woman's calm triumph after man's sexual exhaustion; and in "The Birth of Venus," the birth of love in the world. The "Primavera" and "The Birth of Venus" contain some of the most sensuously beautiful nudes and semi-nudes painted during the Renaissance, though medieval decorum still regulates some of their costuming. The four paintings' settings, which are partly mythological - that of the "Primavera" is the Garden of the Hesperides - and partly symbolic, are pastoral and idyllic in sentiment.

Botticelli's frescos from a chamber in the Villa Tornabuoni, celebrating the marriage of Lorenzo Tornabuoni and Giovanna degli Albizzi in 1486, also draw on classical mythology for their subject matter. In these frescos, real personages mingle with mythological figures: Venus, attended by her Graces, gives flowers to Giovanna degli Albizzi, while Lorenzo Tornabuoni, who is called to a mercantile life, is brought before Prudentia and the Liberal Arts.

The influence of the Renaissance humanist Leon Battista Alberti's art theories is apparent in Botticelli's classical borrowings and his meticulous use of linear perspective. In fact, Botticelli took himself so seriously as the reviver of the lost glories of classical painting that he inserted miniature reproductions of his own works into "The Calumny of Apelles" (c. 1495; Uffizi), a subject recommended by Alberti, who took it from a description of a work by the ancient Greek painter Apelles. Botticelli also drew inspiration from classical art more directly. While in Rome in 1481-82, for example, he reproduced that city's Arch of Constantine in one of his Sistine frescoes. Three of the figures in the "Primavera" are taken from a classical statue of the Three Graces, while the figure of Venus in "The Birth of Venus" derives from an ancient statue of "Venus Pudica."

 
 

 

 

 

 

Pallas and the Centaur
c. 1482
Tempera on canvas
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

 

 

Pallas and the Centaur (detail)
c. 1482
Tempera on canvas
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
 

 

 

 

 

Venus and Mars
c. 1483
Tempera on wood
National Gallery, London

 

 

 

 

Venus and Mars (detail)
c. 1483
Tempera on wood
National Gallery, London

 

 

Venus and Mars (detail)
c. 1483
Tempera on wood
National Gallery, London

 

Venus and the Three Graces Presenting Gifts to a Young Woman

c. 1484
Fresco transferred to canvas, 211 x 284 cm
Musee du Louvre, Paris
 
 

A Young Man Being Introduced to the Seven Liberal Arts

c. 1484
Fresco transferred to canvas, 238 x 284 cm
Musee du Louvre, Paris
 
 

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