Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, known
as Sandro Botticelli (1445 - May 17, 1510), was an
Italian painter of the Early Renaissance. He belonged to the Florentine School
under the patronage of Lorenzo de' Medici, a movement that Giorgio Vasari
would characterize less than a hundred years later in his Vita of Botticellias
as a "golden age". Botticelli's posthumous reputation suffered until the late
19th century; since then his work has been seen to represent the linear grace
of Early Renaissance painting.
Among Botticelli's best known works are The Birth of Venus and
Botticelli was born in the city of Florence in a house in the Via Nuova,
Borg'Ognissanti to Mariano di Vanni d'Amedeo Filipepi. Vasari reported that he was
initially trained as a goldsmith by his brother Antonio. There are very few details
of Botticelli's life, but it is known that he became an apprentice when he was
about fourteen years old, which would indicate that he received a fuller education
than other Renaissance artists. Probably by 1462 he was apprenticed to Fra Filippo
Lippi; many of his early works have been attributed to the elder master, and
attributions continue to be uncertain. Influenced also by the monumentality of
Masaccio's painting, it was from Lippi that Botticelli learned a more intimate and
detailed manner. As recently discovered, during this time, Botticelli could have
traveled to Hungary, participating in the creation of a fresco in Esztergom,
ordered in the workshop of Filippo Lippi by János Vitéz, then archbishop of
By 1470, Botticelli had his own workshop. Even at this early date, his work was
characterized by a conception of the figure as if seen in low relief, drawn with
clear contours, and minimizing strong contrasts of light and shadow which would
indicate fully modeled forms.
The Adoration of the Magi for Santa Maria Novella (c. 1475–1476, now at
the Uffizi), contains the portraits of Cosimo de Medici, his sons Piero and
Giovanni, and his grandsons Lorenzo and Giuliano. The quality of the scene was
hailed by Vasari as one of Botticelli's pinnacles. In 1481, Pope Sixtus IV summoned
Botticelli and other prominent Florentine and Umbrian artists to fresco the walls
of the Sistine Chapel. The iconological program was the supremacy of the Papacy.
Sandro's contribution included the Temptations of Christ, the
Punishment of the Rebels and Trial of Moses. He returned to
Florence, and "being of a sophistical turn of mind, 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."
Thus Vasari characterized the first printed Dante (1481) with Botticelli's
decorations; he could not imagine that the new art of printing might occupy an
The masterpieces Primavera (c. 1482) and The Birth of Venus
(c. 1485) were both seen by Vasari at the villa of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de'
Medici at Castello in the mid-16th century, and until recently, it was assumed that
both works were painted specifically for the villa. Recent scholarship suggests
otherwise: the Primavera was painted for Lorenzo's townhouse in Florence, and The
Birth of Venus was commissioned by someone else for a different site. By 1499, both
had been installed at Castello.
In these works, the influence of Gothic realism is tempered by Botticelli's
study of the antique. But if the painterly means may be understood, the subjects
themselves remain fascinating for their ambiguity. The complex meanings of these
paintings continue to receive widespread scholarly attention, mainly focusing on
the poetry and philosophy of humanists who were the artist's contemporaries. The
works do not illustrate particular texts; rather, each relies upon several texts
for its significance. Of their beauty, characterized by Vasari as exemplifying
"grace" and by John Ruskin as possessing linear rhythm, there can be no doubt. The
pictures features Botticelli's linear style emphasized by the soft continual
contours and pastel colors.
In the mid-1480s, Botticelli worked on a major fresco cycle with
Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Filippino Lippi, for
Lorenzo the Magnificent's villa near Volterra; in addition he painted many frescoes
in Florentine churches. In 1491 he served on a committee to decide upon a façade
for the Cathedral of Florence.