He’s one of the most important Italian painters of all time. He’s one of the symbols of the Early Renaissance. He’s the Florentine who created some of the most famous works of art in the world. He’s Sandro Botticelli.
Sandro Botticelli was born Alessandro Mariana Vanni Filipepi, in 1445, in Florence, in Via Nuova (now Via del Porcellana, near Piazza Ognissanti). His father, a tanner, had a shop in the popular district of Santo Spirito. At age 14, he became an apprentice in the workshop of Fra Filippo Lippi . The earliest work attributed to Botticelli is a Madonna and Child (about 1465), at the Ospitale degli Innocenti (Florence). By 1470, he had his own workshop. In 1474, Botticelli was called upon to fresco Pisa’s Monumental Cemetery.
The committee, however, was never completed, for reasons unknown. One of his most important works dates to these years (1475-76): the Adoration of the Magi, commissioned by Gaspare di Zanobi del Lama, for his chapel in the church of Santa Maria Novella. Here, Botticelli introduces some important innovations for the first time: the front view of the scene, with the holy figures in the center, surrounded by the other characters (up to that time, the three kings were always placed to the right or left of the scene); the holy family is located under a partly destroyed hut, with other semi-destroyed buildings in the background.
In addition, Botticelli includes in the painting the portraits of Cosimo de Medici, his sons Piero and Giovanni, and his grandsons Lorenzo the Magnificent and Giuliano. The chapel is now destroyed and the painting is on display at the Uffizi.
As a result of the Medici family’s patronage, Botticelli gained great artistic fame, to such an extent that he was called upon in 1481 to paint the Sistine Chapel in Rome. An honor bestowed on him and other Renaissance's greatest artists, such as Perugino and Michelangelo. Back in Florence, “he there wrote a commentary on a portion of Dante and illustrated the Inferno which he printed, spending much time over it, and this abstention from work led to serious disorders in his living." (Giorgio Vasari).
In 1483, he participated in an ambitious project by Lorenzo the Magnificent: the decoration of the Spedaletto Villa in Volterra, entrusted to the best artists on the Florentine scene at the time. Nothing remains of these frescoes. In 1491, he served on a committee to decide upon a façade for the Cathedral of Florence. His most famous works by far are, of course, the Primavera and the Birth of Venus. The Primavera (or Allegory of Spring) was commissioned by Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de 'Medici (a cousin of Lorenzo the Magnificent) and the subject of the painting is not fully clear: there are mythological characters implying various neo-platonic academy theories, and probably also some references to the client and his marriage (1482).
The Birth of Venus is not mentioned in the Medici inventories of 1498, 1503 and 1516, but, still thanks to Giorgio Vasari, we know that the work was definitely in the Villa di Castello in 1550, where Vasari was able to admire it, along with the Primavera.
In later life, Botticelli was one of the followers of the deeply moralistic friar Savonarola, who preached in Florence from 1490 until his execution in 1498. After Savonarola’s death, Botticelli was never the same: “he induced to desert his painting, and, having no income to live on, fell into very great distress.” (G. Vasari). Although old and practically inactive, in 1504, Botticelli was included among the members of the committee responsible for choosing the most suitable location for Michelangelo's David.
- Botticelli never wed and expressed a strong aversion to the idea of marriage, a prospect he claimed gave him nightmares.
- It is said that he suffered from an unrequited love for Simonetta Vespucci, a married noblewoman, according to popular belief, the model for The Birth of Venus, despite the fact that she had died years earlier.
- An impact crater on the surface of the planet Mercury is called Botticelli in his honor.