Alessandro Botticelli

Alessandro Botticelli

Style: Early Renaissance

Lived: March 1, 1445 - May 17, 1510 (15th - 16th century)

Nationality: Italy

Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi, better known as Sandro Botticelli was born March 1, 1445 in Florence. In the working-class rione of Ognissanti, he was first apprenticed to a goldsmith. Following the boy's wishes, his father sent him to Fra Filippo Lippi who was at work frescoing the Convent of the Carmine. Filippo Lippi's synthesis of the new control of three-dimensional forms, tender expressiveness in face and gesture, and decorative details were the strongest influences on Botticelli.

He was an apprentice too of Andrea del Verrocchio, where Leonardo da Vinci worked beside him, but he made his name in his local Church of Ognisanti. In 1470 he opened his own independent studio.

Lorenzo de' Medici was quick to employ his talent. The repeated contacts with the Medici family were undoubtedly useful for granting him political protection and creating conditions ideal for his production of several masterpieces.

Though comparatively few of Botticelli's mythological paintings survive, the Primavera epitmozes his use of classical mythology to illustrate the sentiments that are actually derived from medieval courtly love.

Sandro's commissioned Adoration of the Magi for Santa Maria Novella, ca 1476, with the portraits of Cosimo de' Medici with his son and grandson were effusively described by Vasari:

"The beauty of the heads in this scene is indescribable, their attitudes all different, some full-face, some in profile, some three-quarters, some bent down, and in various other ways, while the expressions of the attendants, both young and old, are greatly varied, displaying the artist's perfect mastery of his profession. Sandro further clearly shows the distinction between the suites of each of the kings. It is a marvellous work in colour, design and composition, and the wonder and admiration of all artists."

The Adoration brought Sandro such a reputation in Florence and abroad that Pope Sixtus IV called him to Rome in July 1481, to become part of a team of artists who had been summoned to fresco the walls of the Sistine Chapel. The iconological program was the supremacy of the Papacy. Sandro did his job there, was well paid by the Pope and unveiled the paintings, which were a revelation to Roman patrons and artists. But Botticelli didn't stay to enjoy the benefits of the patronage in papal circles that would have come his way; he packed up his brushes and returned to Florence.

He there wrote a commentary on a portion of Dante and illustrated the Inferno which he printed (1481), spending much time over it.

When Fra Girolamo Savonarola began to preach hellfire and damnation, the susceptible Sandro Botticelli became one of his adherents, a piagnone left painting as a worldly vanity, burned much of his own early work, fell into poverty as a result, and would have starved but for the tender support of his former patrons.

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

The popular view is that he suffered from unrequited love for Simonetta Vespucci, a married noblewoman. According to the legend, she had served as the model for The Birth of Venus and recurs throughout his paintings, despite the fact that she had died years earlier, in 1476. Botticelli asked that when he would die, he'd be buried at her feet. His wish was carried out when he died 34 years later, May 17, 1510.

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