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Sandro Botticelli Artworks

Italian Painter

Sandro Botticelli Photo
Movement: Early Renaissance

Born: c.1445 - Florence, Italy

Died: May 17, 1510 - Florence, Italy

Artworks by Sandro Botticelli

The below artworks are the most important by Sandro Botticelli - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Adoration of the Magi (c.1475)

Adoration of the Magi (c.1475)

This important early work by Botticelli was commissioned by Guaspare di Zanobi del Lama, a banker who had built a chapel in the church of Santa Maria Novelli in Florence. It is possible that del Lama chose this subject to decorate his chapel because one of the Magi, traditionally known as "Caspar", or "Gaspare", is his namesake. According to Vasari's Lives of the Artists, the work depicts several members of the Medici family, including Cosimo the Elder, and his sons Piero and Giovanni, who were all deceased at the time the painting was made, as the three Magi. The Medici family often associated themselves with the Magi or Three Kings from the Nativity story, even riding through the streets of Florence dressed as them every Epiphany. The Medici were friends of the del Lama family, and important patrons for Botticelli himself. Although del Lama's intentions in commissioning these portraits as part of the painting are not known, it was common for religious scenes painted at the time to contain portraits of nobility, and points to the important connection art had with money and power in Renaissance Florence.

Botticelli was probably the first artist to depict the Adoration of the Magi with the holy family at the center, set back "deep" into the painting, with the other characters arranged symmetrically on either side. Previously, the scene had always been depicted as a linear narrative flowing across the space of the canvas, as in the Gothic painting by Gentile da Fabbriano (1420) or Benozzo Gozzoli's famous fresco in the Palazzo Medici (1459).

Intriguingly, the painting also contains a self-portrait of Botticelli - the only one known to be in existence. The artist stands on the right edge of the painting and looks directly out at the viewer. Although he was probably only around 30 years old when this was painted, Botticelli depicts himself as confident and masterful, and his confidence is justified by the accomplished style of this work, which compares to some of his more mature masterpieces.

Primavera (late 1470s- early 1480s)

Primavera (late 1470s- early 1480s)

One of the most famous paintings in Western art, the Primavera depicts a series of figures from classical mythology in a garden or woodland. Rather than representing a scene from a specific story, it is believed that Botticelli either presents the figures in this arrangement purely for aesthetic reasons, or if there was a narrative, it is unknown to us today. Either way, the mysteriousness of the painting is part of its great appeal.

It is generally agreed that the painting is an allegory about the season of Spring, as suggested by its title, but there is no agreement as to the exact message being conveyed. It is likely that the central character is Venus, the goddess of love, while the three graces dance beside her, and Chloris, the goddess of flowers, is chased by the figure of the West Wind before transforming into Flora, echoing a myth described in Ovid. The messenger god Mercury stands to the left, as the figure of Cupid floats above the scene, about to fire an arrow.

The Primavera is particularly significant as it is one of the earliest examples in Western post-Classical painting of a non-religious scene. As The Guardian's senior art critic Jonathan Jones puts it, "Botticelli's Primavera was one of the first large-scale European paintings to tell a story that was not Christian, replacing the agony of Easter with a pagan rite. The very idea of art as a pleasure, and not a sermon, began in this meadow." To see this in a painting of this scale (80 x 124 inches) makes Primavera a particularly exciting milestone for the development of Western art.

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Venus and Mars (c.1485)

Venus and Mars (c.1485)

In this panel painting, Botticelli turns once again to a mythological subject. Venus, the goddess of love, reclines on the grass while her lover Mars, the god of war, lies asleep and disarmed before her, presumably tired out by love-making. Several young fauns are playing in the scene, attempting to wake Mars by blowing in his ear with a conch shell. The painting also features some wasps ('vespe' in Italian), which may be a reference to the Vespucci family, who lived near to Botticelli, or may refer to the stings of love. The basic message of the work could be read as 'love conquers war'.

The painting, which was probably intended to be incorporated into a piece of bedroom furniture, is essentially a joke at the expense of men. Mars is undone by his sexual encounter, disarmed and vulnerable, while Venus looks calmly on, fully clothed and awake. Mars is wearing only a small swathe of fabric, leaving his almost-bare body on view to both his lover Venus and, implicitly, the viewer, becoming the object of desire in the painting.

Though Venus is fully clothed having "conquered" Mars, the portrayal of her powerful sexuality is equally as enticing. As art historian Patricia Rubin points out, "Botticelli's Venus, posed with her exhausted lover Mars, is, by definition, the pagan adulteress. The emphatically sensuous curves and sculptural surfaces of her body signify her physical desirability and use tactics studied from ancient sculpture." In this way, Botticelli emphasizes Venus' power, but also eroticizes her, showing her divine beauty and drawing attention to the feminine body underneath her dress.

Map of Hell (c. 1485)

Map of Hell (c. 1485)

Dante, the most famous of Italian poets, wrote his Divine Comedy between c. 1308 and 1320 while living in Florence. A century and a half later, it was widely read and its importance was recognized. In the 1480s, Botticelli began working on a series of drawings to illustrate the poem, 92 of which survive, including the Map of Hell. This is a detailed depiction of Dante's nine circles of hell, the types of people sent to each, and the punishments inflicted there. It is one of four fully-colored images in the collection; the rest are mostly in silverpoint or worked over in ink.

The work was conceived to have a different image depicting the entire sequence of events for each canto of the Divine Comedy, of which there are 99 in all. This was an unprecedented way of approaching illustrations to a text. Usually, an artist would choose a particular scene or episode, whereas Botticelli captures the entire canto, sometimes repeating key figures in different formulations to express the narrative's progress. This approach can be seen in the Map of Hell, which ambitiously attempts to capture the entire configuration of the underworld.

Art historian Barbara Watts argues that the illustrations are often overlooked in Botticelli's oeuvre, claiming that "Botticelli's Dante drawings are of such vision and beauty that, no less than the Primavera, they are central to his artistic achievement."

The Birth of Venus (c. 1486)

The Birth of Venus (c. 1486)

This painting is one of the best-loved works of art in the world. Although Botticelli lost favor after his death, his reputation was revived in the late 19th century and since then The Birth of Venus has risen to international fame. The painting depicts the goddess of love, Venus, sailing to shore from the sea on a giant shell. She is blown into land by Zephyr, the god of the west wind, while a female attendant waits with a cloak.

Like the slightly earlier Primavera, The Birth of Venus is groundbreaking for presenting a non-religious scene from classical mythology on such a large scale. Moreover, the inclusion of such a prominent female nude at near-life-size was virtually unprecedented in Western painting. The work plays an obvious homage to classical art, emulating the "Venus Pudica" style of a nude female figure attempting, but not quite succeeding, to preserve her modesty with her hands and in this case her erotically charged long hair.

Botticelli's reference to classical sculpture in Venus' pose is overt, as she stands in the contrapposto stance with her weight on one foot, which was favored by Greco-Roman art and emulated by early Italian Renaissance artists. Intriguingly, the stance is so exaggerated that it is anatomically impossible, and the figure stands improbably on the edge of the floating shell. In this way, Botticelli also refers back to the Gothic tradition that preceded the Renaissance, where emphasis was placed on symbolism and status rather than on realistic depiction. It is interesting, therefore, that Botticelli's most famous work has come to stand for Italian Renaissance art in the popular imagination, even though it eschews many of the key tenets of the later movement in favor of aesthetic beauty and an overall idea.

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Calumny of Apelles (1494-1495)

Calumny of Apelles (1494-1495)

This unusual late scene by Botticelli has an almost surrealistic quality to it, with its ornate setting, blank skies and allegorical figures. The work is the result of Botticelli's attempt to recreate a lost painting by the Ancient Greek artist Apelles, as described in a well-known text by the Roman writer Lucian, pointing to Botticelli's admiration of classical art.

The scene is an allegory depicting slander, with all the figures representing vices or virtues, apart from the King and the accused man, who could be seen as representing the balance of power. A figure closely resembling the nude central character of The Birth of Venus (c.1486) can be seen to the left of the scene, this time symbolizing the allegorical figure of Truth. Once again, she stands in an exaggerated contrapposto stance, with one hand recalling the 'Venus Pudica' trope and one pointing towards heaven.

Botticelli's painting emphasizes how wrong slander is through both the allegory he depicts as well as the setting. The elaborate architecture, designed to perfect Renaissance proportions, is punctuated by sculptures of both Christian and pagan virtuous figures, all of whom appear to be looking down on and judging the scene below. As the art historian Guido Cornini argues, "Botticelli transforms the literary notion into a bizarre elaboration, revitalizing and at the same time exhausting the classical allegory. The marble elegantly decorating the hall and the grandeur with which the arches define the space in which the allegory unfolds in Botticelli's representation, no longer frame delicate mythological compositions alluding to defined virtues or moral objectives. On the contrary, they clearly show the abject wickedness of the slanderous act."

Related Artists and Major Works

Triumph of Galatea (1514)

Triumph of Galatea (1514)

Artist: Raphael (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

This fresco depicts the story of Galatea, daughter of the sea god Nereus, who had fallen in love with Acis, a shepherd. The story goes that Polyphemus, the Cyclops and son of Poseidon, loved Galatea, and when he caught her and her beloved Acis in embrace, he killed him in a jealous rage. In the center, we see Galatea riding the seas on a conch-shell chariot drawn by two dolphins, trying to flee Polyphemus. Mythical sea creatures surround her. On the left Polyphemus seizes a sea nymph to throw aside as he struggles to get near Galatea. Another nymph to the right sounds an alarm. Flying putti hover in the sky above, threatening Galatea with arrows from Cupid's bows.

The Triumph of Galatea was painted to decorate the Villa Farnesina for Raphael's banker and friend Agostino Chigi. It is the only painting from Greek mythology ever painted by the artist. It was inspired by the poem "Stanza per la Giostra," by Angelo Poliziano, which is also thought to have been the inspiration for Botticelli's The Birth of Venus (1483-1485). The verse describes how, despite the love song sung by Polyphemus, Galatea spurns his love, sailing away with her company of sea-nymphs. Although neither his poetic series nor the intended frescos to decorate the villa were completed, we are lucky to have within this work a marvelous example of Raphael's technical artistic ability as well as imaginative interpretation.

The piece breathes with an emotional intensity that is testament to Raphael's ability to conjure ideals of grandeur so majestically. The figures in the composition all interact with each other to form a cohesive whole. Each gesture is met with a reciprocal gesture, guiding our gaze to the central beauty of Galatea's face, which the artist professed came directly from his imagination rather than a model. A frenzied fluidity of movement is achieved through Galatea's billowing robe, the plunging dolphins, and the supreme musculature of the other figures, illustrating perfect machinations of the body.

It's easy to see Michelangelo's influence in the muscular forms or Leonardo's harking back to Roman classical frescos with the bright coloring. Yet, there is no doubt that this painting is a supreme example that embodies all Raphael had learned resulting in a magnificent elegy to the dreamlike nature of beauty.

An Allegory with Venus and Cupid (c. 1545)

An Allegory with Venus and Cupid (c. 1545)

Movement: Mannerism (Read Movement Overview, History, and Artworks pages)

Artist: Bronzino

This allegorical but mysterious painting depicts Venus in the center, her pose contorted to turn her alabaster-smooth torso toward the viewer. A nude Cupid, who is her son from an adulterous affair with Mars, embraces her as his right hand caresses her breast and his left turns her head toward him for a kiss. Cupid universally represents desire, and the artist has shockingly depicted the two as lovers, though the work also seems like a theatrical staging with its two masks, similar to those symbolizing tragedy and comedy, lying discarded on the lower right. Adding to the mystery, to Cupid's left a grimacing haggard figure clutches her head, while, above, a face floats in profile, her hands unfolding the blue swirling cloth of the background. On the right holding a bouquet of bright pink flowers in his uplifted hands, a gleeful putto strides forward. Behind him a chimera combining a girl's face with a disjointed body that seems part animal and part bird, a scorpion's barb on her back, holds out a honeycomb. The meaning of the figures has been much debated, as some scholars identify the chimera with Pleasure and Fraud, the figure on the left tearing its hair with Jealousy, and the putto as Folly. The wrathful man whose head looms at the top right, his arm reaching out as if to tear away the veiling blue cloth, while an hour glass can be seen behind him, seems to be Time. The work presents an erotic riddle, implicating the viewer.

It's thought that Cosimo I commissioned the work to be presented to King Francis I of France. It was intended to appeal to the erotic tastes of the court and Bronzino succeeded through his cold stylization of Venus as a precious alabaster statue, while the luxurious fabrics and the discarded masks, evoke the many carnivals of the time, creating an aristocratic environment, which was part of the work's allure.

Later critics like John Ruskin and Bernard Berenson specifically condemned the work for its artificiality and perversion. However, artists like Jacques-Louis David, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Giorgio de Chirico, were later inspired by "the master of the mannerist erotic scene," as Morris described Bronzino. The painting has also been a cultural presence, referenced in novels by Iris Murdoch and Robertson Davies, in Yasuko Aoike's manga From Eroica with Love (1976-2010), and Lina Wertmüller's film Seven Beauties (1975).

The Triumph of Venus (1740)

The Triumph of Venus (1740)

Artist: François Boucher (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

The goddess Venus emerges from the sea, carried aloft on a wave upon a mother-of-pearl shell and surrounded by admirers. Naiads, nymphs, and gods float among dolphins and doves, winged cupids floating above them. Boucher's Triumph of Venus is an archetype of Rococo style, from the mythological subject that is playfully imbued with eroticism, to the cool palette, dynamic, pyramidal composition, and series of interlocking arabesques. The painting is a celebration of love and lust, the sensuous flesh of the figures rendered in modulations of creams and pinks. A female figure at left seems to throw back her head in ecstasy, a white dove perched suggestively between her legs.

Set in a utopic seascape, the painting nonetheless bears important traces of his ability to translate the real world into fantasy: Venus herself was modeled by the artist's wife, and the flowing canopy of pink and white that twists above the goddess is a testament to Boucher's talent for capturing dynamic movement and light.

A large commission from one of the painter's most important patrons, Count Tessin, the Swedish ambassador to France, this painting would become an exemplar of the trope of idealized nudes in nature for painters; indeed, art historians have observed the compositional similarity between Boucher's painting and the Philadelphia Museum version of Paul Cézanne's Large Bathers (1900-06). Cézanne's double pyramidal composition and use of periwinkle blue echoes Boucher's canvas, while the harsh, abstracted bodies of Cézanne firmly locate the later painting in the history of abstraction and early Cubism. That Boucher would be a foil against which modern artists defined themselves speaks to the rejection of his decorative and beautiful idealizations, but also maintains his legacy as a master of the medium of painting.

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